How Microsoft virtually powered CNN Philippines’ presidential debate

How Microsoft virtually powered CNN Philippines’ presidential debate

Collaboration platform hosted virtual audience housing 800 individuals.

Credit: Microsoft

CNN relied on Microsoft Teams to power the first presidential and vice-presidential debates held with a virtual audience in the Philippines, as the nation embraced digital technologies to overcome ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

Located at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in late February, the debates welcomed a combined virtual audience of nearly 800 individuals from various segments of society including persons with disabilities (PWDs), senior citizens, students, professionals and other social groups. 

In addition to attending the discussions, individuals maximised the collaboration platform to interact and respond in real-time to both the candidates and CNN Philippines’ news anchors.

“Technology has been at the forefront of the world’s response to COVID-19 -- enabling nations and communities to adapt, thrive and to sustain our way of life in spite of the challenges we continue to experience,” said Joanna Rodriguez, director of Public Sector at Microsoft Philippines.

“As an organisation, we’re committed to ensuring our technology benefits the world around us, driving lasting innovation and purposeful impact today and for the future. We’re excited by the opportunity to do just that for the Philippines.”

According to Rodriguez, the partnership with CNN reflects the “transformative nature of digitalisation” and its ability to drive electoral and democratic process among governments and citizens nationwide.

“For 27 years now, Microsoft has been a partner to the Philippines,” Rodriguez added. “We have always been and will continue to be allies in nation-building.”

Ahead of the national elections in May, the Commission on Elections has planned three presidential and vice-presidential debates while also allowing news organisations to conduct accredited debates to deep-dive into candidate policies, priorities and positions.

As a result, CNN Philippines launched ‘The Filipino Votes’ on 26-27 February at UST’s Quadricentennial Pavilion for vice-presidential and presidential candidates, respectively. But limitations on public gatherings due to COVID-19 resulted in a change of approach and increased reliance on Microsoft to power a virtual audience experience using Teams.

Both debates were broadcast live on television and CNN Philippines’ online channels, reaching more than 4.7 million Filipinos across the country.

“The May elections will be a critical crossroads for the Filipino people, a test of our resolve to strengthen the rule of law, human rights fundamentals, accountability and transparency of government,” outlined Benjamin Ramos, president of CNN Philippines. “And our debates will serve as our modest contribution towards this end.

“Microsoft’s team of engineers, project managers and technicians provided us the technology and platform to set up the debate’s virtual audience and showcase an immersive and communal viewing experience to our viewers.”

The alliance comes less than four months after the city of Manila partnered with Microsoft in a multi-pronged approach to build smart citizen credentials, enhance government productivity levels and maximise the potential of data.

Shaped by a desire to become both “modern” and “global” following 12-18 months of economic and societal upheaval, the Philippines’ capital city aims to leverage cloud technologies to “potentially empower” more than two million citizens post-pandemic,

At the heart of such plans is a commitment to create digital IDs for all city residents, alongside rolling out Microsoft 365 licences to advance education efforts and modernising government agencies through new workplace offerings. This is in addition to supporting city-wide efforts to enhance data governance policies.

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