Election Insights

Follow Up Q&A to TV Tonight Article on 7News’ Screen of Dreams

On May 21, 2022, TV Tonight published an article written by David Knox titled, “Demystifying Seven’s ‘Screen of Dreams.’ In this article, Cyrus Doomasia (Head of Delivery at InterKnowlogy) explained that Seven's ‘Screen of Dreams’ uses tech from the same developers (InterKnowlogy) behind CNN's ‘Magic Wall.’ While re-visiting this article, I became curious about the answers to a few possible follow-up questions. Luckily for me, Cyrus is a colleague of mine at InterKnowlogy and was kind enough to oblige me with the answers.

May 14, 2024

Here is the link to the original article: https://tvtonight.com.au/2022/05/demystifying-sevens-screen-of-dreams.html

Below is the original article, pasted in normal text, along with my follow up questions and Cyrus’ answers to them, in italics:

CNN’s ‘Magic Wall’ gave John King the edge on election night in the US election and now Seven is turning to technology by the same developers for its election coverage tonight, anchored by Mark Riley.

US software designers InterKnowlogy, are behind the tech for Seven’s ‘Screen of Dreams.’

Head of Delivery, Cyrus Doomasia (pictured top left), tells TV Tonight, the app turns data into visuals that make information easier to understand.

“It’s really important to democratize data, and make any information easily accessible to everyone. As you can imagine, data is often complex, and it’s often boring. So how do you take large amounts of data, like, for example, elections data in this case, and make it interesting for the user of the system?” he asks.

Follow Up Questions: How do you take large amounts of "boring" data and make it interesting for the user of the system? What considerations go into this? What does it end up looking like?

Answer: The strength of something like the ‘Screen of Dreams’ lies in its context-sensitive design. At the country level, users view data aggregated at the national scale, while at the state, region, or province level, they see data tailored to that specific area. This approach makes the information visually intuitive and easy for viewers to grasp.

Visual cues play a significant role in achieving this clarity. Using appropriate party colors, recognizable abbreviations, and other graphical elements helps ensure that the displayed data is both accurate and engaging. Additionally, the product's built-in tools that support "what-if" scenarios empower hosts to explore different possibilities, adding depth to the data and enhancing its storytelling power. These features not only improve understanding but also make the content more compelling for audiences.

“We’re all visual creatures, so anytime you can show things visually, it sinks in with the viewer. So it’s helping Mark Riley to visualize data in an easy-to-understand, digestible manner, and also to help make decisions.”

Maps will include state and territories, individual seats and with incoming data from the Australian Election Commission.

“We’ve already ingested the historical data. So Mark Riley can go into 2019 and show a comparison when a seat is flipping… then we have census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which will show you things like gender splits, median age, and so on,” he continues.

“But you don’t want to see a lot of data on the screen, because that overwhelms the end user. So we try to keep it as clean as possible so that you can get the story around it.”

Follow Up Questions: How do you find the balance of having just enough data on the screen to assist the story telling, without overwhelming the viewer? What considerations go into this? Who is involved in these conversations? What does it end up looking like?

Answer: The amount of data displayed on screen during an election night broadcast is closely tied to the stories that the host wants to share. At the beginning of each election project, we work hand-in-hand with our clients to understand the key narratives they plan to focus on. Sometimes, the on-screen data (such as demographic information) serves more as a quick reference for the host than for the viewers at home. In these cases, we ensure the data's size and placement don’t distract from the broadcast's flow. Through numerous discussions with our clients, we leverage our extensive experience in data visualization and draw on the expertise of our design team to offer additional suggestions. These suggestions might differ from the client's original ideas, but it's crucial to engage in these exchanges and iterate until we find creative solutions that work best for the client and their audience.

Riley is joined by Sunrise‘s Natalie Barr and Seven News anchor Michael Usher, with Chris Reason and Angela Cox in Coalition and Labor headquarters. Panelists will include Jason Clare, Senator Katy Gallagher, Chris Bowen, Christopher Pyne, Michaelia Cash and David Littleproud.

Rehearsals have been underway at Seven’s studios in Eveleigh, including worst-case-scenario plans in case of a tech failure.

“On Thursday, we had a dress rehearsal with the AEC where we did those kinds of scenarios, with a temporary loss connection, and a permanent loss connection. If it’s a temporary loss of connection, then of course, things will just go back once the connection is restored, and you wouldn’t see anything differently. But if there’s a permanent loss of connection, then unfortunately, we’d have to stick with the last set of data that we got.

“I will be in the studio, and hopefully it will be very uneventful for me. That’s what we are striving for. For an election it will be interesting, but from a technology side of things, boring is a good day!”

Follow Up Questions: How are these worst-case-scenarios tested? How intimidating/nerve-wracking is it? Who is involved in these tests?

Answer: Given that the 'Screen of Dreams’ is used live on-air during election night coverage, there's no margin for error. To ensure flawless performance, thorough testing is carried out well before election day. A key part of this process is conducting a live simulation or "dress rehearsal" of election night. This typically involves close collaboration among the broadcaster, iK, and the relevant election authority, which is usually the source of election data.

During these simulations, the election authority will often introduce deliberate failures to test how the system handles unexpected issues. This provides a valuable opportunity to ensure the system responds smoothly, even under stress. Additionally, if there have been data format changes since the previous election, this is the ideal time to verify that data integration is functioning correctly.

As a best practice, we aim to have the product fully prepared before the dress rehearsal, allowing us to test the system in a setting as close to the final election night environment as possible. This approach ensures that when election night arrives, the product will perform reliably and efficiently, ensuring a seamless experience for viewers.

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