ITV prepares for historic election debate

Thursday, April 15 2010, 11:39 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

ITV will tonight make British political history by broadcasting the UK's first ever televised election debate, with up to 21 million people expected to tune in.

From 8.30pm to 10pm tonight on ITV1, Labour's Gordon Brown, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Conservative leader David Cameron will participate in the debut prime ministerial debate.

Alistair Stewart will moderate discussion in front of a live studio audience in Manchester, with half the programme carrying the theme of domestic affairs.

According to the latest polls, around half the electorate plan to watch the debate, representing as many as 21 million people tuning in. However, ITV is more realistically expecting around 12m to watch the live broadcast.

Interestingly, an ITN poll revealed that half of those planning to watch believe that their vote will be influenced by the leader's performance.

Alongside the ITV1 transmission, ITV plans to run a live stream of the debate and post-debate programme on, as well as offer a range of interactive services.

An audience reaction tool, known as The Worm, will be displayed on the live stream to indicate responses from a dedicated focus group assembled by ITV News. The Worm registers approval, disapproval and neutral responses from the group, and then plots the data via an on-screen graph.

ITV will also host live online chat around the debate, including expert commentary and key quotes from the leaders. Users will be able to submit their own views, with Bill Neely, Lucy Manning and Angus Walker on-hand to give their instant reactions to the discussion.

After the debate, viewers will get the chance to join ITV News correspondents and experts in digesting what has been discussed, with online polls being run at regular intervals.

Facebook users will further be able to share their views on the social media site, while "sentiment tools" will be operated on Twitter to track the discussions of 5,000 key users to give an overall picture.

"This is a truly historic occasion and we're really excited to be the only site able to offer, not only a live stream of the debate, but the opportunity for our users to share their views and opinions both on and across social networks such as Twitter and Facebook," said ITV director of online and interactive Ben McOwen Wilson.

"This is a great example of ITV feeding the increasing appetite of our users to engage with big events on the television and online simultaneously."

Following the live transmission, the debate will be also made available on ITV Player and the ITV1 YouTube channel.