CNN Ratings, Beamed Up by Hologram

About 13.3 million viewers watched Anderson Cooper and Will.I.Am's hologramterview.
About 13.3 million viewers watched Anderson Cooper and Will.I.Am's hologramterview. (Cnn)
By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, November 6, 2008

Nearly 71 million viewers watched the United States elect its first African American president, across 14 television networks Tuesday night.

And about 13.3 million of them were treated to CNN star Anderson Cooper's historic interview with a hologram of Will.I.Am about the "Yes, We Can" video that the musician made for the Barack Obama election effort, and to Wolf Blitzer chatting with Chief Capitol Hill Hologram Jessica Yellin. She was beamed in from Chicago's Grant Park to talk about whether the crowd gathered there awaiting Obama's victory speech was excited. (They were, viewers learned while they pondered whether a CNN correspondent flickering blue around the edges was any less fair and balanced than a non-flickering CNN correspondent.)

CNN's 13.3 million viewers, garnered between the start of prime time at 8 and the end of President-elect Obama's speech at about 12:30 a.m., is not only the biggest audience in the cable net's 28-year history but also marks the first time the cable news network made a clean sweep of all the broadcast and cable networks on election night. Its closest competitor, ABC, logged 12.5 million in those same hours. NBC and CBS lagged with 12 million and 7.5 million, respectively.

Probably because the race was called so early -- 11 p.m. -- Tuesday's election night clocked about 10 million more people than watched 2000's controversial and endless matchup between George W. Bush and Al Gore. And it's about 12 million more than watched the 2004 election night face-off between President Bush and John Kerry.

More to the point, it's the biggest TV audience since February's Super Bowl, which averaged 97.5 million viewers.

During their Hologram Moment, Cooper asked Will.I.Am how he came up with the "Yes, We Can" video, which "really got an enormous play." But, again, here, it's unlikely anybody cared what Will.I.Am had to say in this, his gajillionth interview about the video -- nothing new, BTW -- being completely preoccupied as they were with the Black Eyed Pea in his new Beam-Me-Up-Scotty state.

The Post's Paul Farhi wondered whether Blitzer could have walked through Yellin, and yesterday asked CNN's senior vice president and Washington bureau chief David Bohrman, who was the guy behind the election-night bells and whistles.

Had Blitzer tried to walk through Yellin, besides being the height of rudeness, he would have blacked out, because in Hologram World, two people can't occupy the same space simultaneously, Bohrman assured Farhi.

Blitzer couldn't actually see Yellin standing a few feet in front of him, nor could Cooper see Will.I.Am. The two anchors saw their interview subjects via monitors, said Bohrman, who predicted it would be another dozen years before anchors could actually see their hologramterviews on the set. Right now, it's kind of like when your local weatherman points to clouds and low-pressure systems on the map he/she pretends to see but actually can't and is instead looking at the map on a monitor.

Had Blitzer walked behind Yellin, Bohrman noted, we could have seen a little of Blitzer through her. Try not to think about that; put it out of your mind.

And, the flickering blue edges were added to Yellin and Will.I.Am to make them look a little more like Princess Leia and a little less like Cokie Roberts in a trench coat over her evening dress pretending to be standing in front of the Capitol, Bohrman said.

The CNN exec said the hologramology technology makes sense when an anchor is trying to have a more intimate conversation with a correspondent than he can have if said correspondent is being mobbed by those annoying waving crowds. On the other hand, to make the hologram thing work, the correspondent, or Black Eyed Pea, has to be removed from the distracting crowd anyway, and put in a green-screen-ish tent in a studio, and surrounded by about 40 fixed HD cameras.

Bohrman said he had no plans to use hologramterviews again in the immediate future, calling them "an ornament on a tree" and not the centerpiece of CNN's election-night coverage.

Oops on that.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company