Make election coverage more interactive with Bridgecast

How can news capitalise on event television and engage users in much the same way as entertainment? This was the challenge that the team from TVN24 set out to tackle during the Gazeta Wyborcza Editors Lab, held in Warsaw in March 2015 and carried out with the support of Google.

With the Polish presidential election a few short months away, teams had 48 hours to prototype a tool to cover elections. The TVN24 team built Bridgecast: a clever mobile app designed to combat information overload and voter disengagement by allowing spectators to interact with presidential campaign coverage on television.

Today, Bridgecast is implemented as a module of the TVN24 mobile app, available for download on the App Store, Google Play Store and Windows Store. We chatted with one of Bridgecast’s creators, Łukasz Dulniak, to know more about what happened after the hackathon and to learn his take on the overall Editors Lab experience.

From prototype until implementation on the official app for TVN24, was it necessary to do a lot of development or was it basically a matter of adjusting a few things to make it fit in well?

After the hackathon, we decided to implement it on the official app and it took us about six months. Basically, we just built another section and we implemented it for the election, which was one of the “extra features” that we were making. TVN24 is the biggest news channel [in Poland]. [With] our core user base and TV-viewing audience base, the election was our main topic and the core interest of the station.

What were the features of your initial prototype? Which features did you add afterwards?

Initially it was a game-like mechanism of taking a quiz and answering trivia questions. Advanced second screen features and users’ political profiles were added later.

Since you have been so involved with the app, what has been the impact you have witnessed? How has the audience reacted in terms of users or the feedback that you have received from them?

I was very surprised. I follow our web analytics closely and the numbers we are seeing — the page views and the users on the election section — are very good. I was really surprised to see how many people are using the polls as an additional product. In our main poll during elections, as I recall, there were something like 80,000 votes.

“Arena Idei” (Arena of Ideas). Popular polls include those linked to the debates sparked by the European refugee crisis.

That’s very high.

Yes, it was amazing. It was like every third user of the website of main news was also using the app to interact with the news. It was very satisfactory, so I hope it will be replicable in other subjects as well. Every time we take on a more controversial topic or something that is more attached to the everyday life of the audience, we see that it very significantly impacts their consumption. We see just tens of thousands of votes cast, which also improves the whole experience of the app. Usually, it is followed by new users, more downloads in iOS and the Play Store. That is very good.

The things we try to achieve in the future are a [closer] connection between the app and the website and then, the app and TV, which probably is the biggest challenge that we face. As I said, it is difficult because we have to compete with our own ecosystem: our Twitter account, our Facebook account and this whole “live” thing going on in social media. We try to balance this inside competition as much as we can, but on the other hand, we are very conscious that this is our product, this is the inside product and we’d like to stay as independent of the outside platforms [as possible]. The whole app is one of the few impactful aspects of the whole inside ecosystem that is really interactive and can compete with social media from the outside.

Probably the next steps are pretty similar to the design that we created during the hackathon. We will try to move it more in the direction of the second screen app for the website and TV. We will have to take into account how the whole area is constantly changing — how, for example, our social media is the biggest in news business in Poland. We have almost one million followers on Twitter, and it basically makes Twitter our main second screen app right now instead of our own. We will have to cope with all of these things and make the product much more suitable for our users who are also using the other parts of our ecosystem.

Going back to the Editors Lab experience itself, how do you think that the event helped you to shape your idea and the prototype?

I think the impact of the event was huge. It was a very strong incentive for me and for other people in the organisation to focus on this one challenge and then, when we had accomplished something that was appreciated by the jury and by my colleagues from the event, we knew that we had something interesting. The whole idea of working together with the coder and the designer allowed it to take the shape of something that was already quite serious. When we were at the pitch session, we just saw that we had something that could be a real product. We saw that people were quite excited and it just took us two days — not four months — to develop it. Probably without the hackathon, we wouldn’t have done it this way or maybe we would have focused on something else. I would say the impact on our everyday work was quite big.

In general, at the Editors Lab journalists are brought together with a designer and with a programmer, which is something that would not necessarily happen in every newsroom. Do you think this helped to foster the innovation necessary to create this idea?

Definitely. It was a huge incentive to create something like that, and it was very clear just at the showroom of the ideas. The other thing is it was very interesting to see how the people from other outlets were coping with the same problems. In Poland, the whole journalistic scene is not very well developed. We do not have many events to exchange our ideas, or most of them are concerned with some more isolated parts of journalism, for example the events for social media managers or the events for investigative journalists or data journalists. Usually, we don’t have this kind of gathering to cope with the same problem by people on different levels or branches of journalism. So it was very interesting to see how others tried to achieve the same goal or challenge the problem in some different way. I think that this whole social sphere around the Editors Lab was awesome and very fruitful.

8The TVN24 team at the Gazeta Wyborcza Editors Lab. Photo: Global Editors Network

Do you have a best practice or piece of advice that you took away from your Editors Lab experience?

The idea of working together with a coder and a designer was a bit of an everyday enlightenment. In the company, we do not have many occasions to work that closely. Usually, we just have very strict boundaries between the technology section, the newsroom and the design department. We have some connections to cooperate, but usually we don’t sit next to each other to brainstorm and try to create something together, rapidly exchange our ideas, see how long it takes to code something, see how we can try to put it in the right words, give it a nice design, show it in some visual way. It was awesome to try that. To be honest, it is not very easy to do it in [the day-to-day] reality. I would like to see it more.