Election coverage provides the perfect opportunity for interactive television, with scope to include multiple viewpoints and incorporate comprehensive results and statistics.
A general election is one of those set-piece events when the BBC rises to the occasion. Superbly elegant information graphics complemented an enormous set in the largest studio at Television Centre. The look and feel was carried across to a multiscreen interactive application, providing satellite and cable viewers with access to an additional four full screen video streams, with three streams available on Freeview.
Essentially it was simply a re-skin of a previous Olympics application, but with the addition of a rather irritating pointer cycling between the subscreens, associated with prompts in a strapline below. The available options included recorded loops of the latest headlines, statistical analysis, comment and regional packages.
It was a polished presentation, entirely video-centric, perhaps wisely avoiding any real-time updates, which could be more capably carried in the programme stream. It would be difficult to imagine how an interactive application could compete with the virtual computer graphics available in the studio which become increasingly ambitious each election.
However, there was no easy means of navigating to individual constituency results, which were presented as an unwieldy series of sub-pages within a separate text service. Given that this would provide a real opportunity to enhance the viewing experience, this was disappointing.
Sky News had a much more modest set, with their usual bold graphic approach. Their interactive application featured no less than sixteen full-screen streams, which sets a new record. These included the familiar eight screen Sky News Active service, with a further eight streams available through a further screen.
While these offered a similar mix of highlight loops, the use of live unedited feeds offered a sense of raw newsgathering from selected counts returning their results. Although Sky provided easy access to some summary statistics, integrated within the same application, again it was not possible to drill down into individual constituency results.
Perhaps the most successful feature was a fixed shot from the back the production gallery, complete with sound, providing a real insight into the workings of the live programme. While the gallery view is not new, the inclusion of sound was a brave move that could equally be applied with great effect to other live programmes.
While the BBC aesthetic was more polished, the rather more raw Sky approach provided a more compelling interactive viewing experience.
Meanwhile on the web, the BBC News site offered an excellent online service, with a Flash application providing an interactive map of the country from which it was possible to zoom into a single constituency for updated results.
Perhaps one day it will be possible to offer similar levels of sophistication within an interactive television application.