What’s Trending: A Sneak Peek at CBS News’s Social Experiment

Shira Lazar on set during a "Whats Trending" rehearsal.

The first thing you’re told about What’s Trending is that “we’re not calling it a web show.” Those are the words of host Shira Lazar, who instead refers to the series launching this Tuesday as an interactive TV show — one with the backing of CBS News, that just happens to be streaming live on Ustream, Livestream and YouTube (thanks to CBS’s pre-existing relationships with those partners).


Created by Disrupt Group and directed by Brett Register, What’s Trending, as gleaned from interviews and sitting in on a rehearsal of the live show last week, is not so much a news series about the Internet as it is a show about current events and pop culture, as seen through the eyes of the Internet.

“Unlike some other shows that include social media as an added tool to the content, our content itself is social, and the show is powered by that conversation and our community,” Lazar said via email. “Everything we do involves digitally connected tools — from how we discover and source stories to how we curate them on the blog and on-air.”

Enabling this process is social media correspondent Melissa Jun Rowley, who will be bringing in comments and questions from Twitter and the chat room during the live show. In addition, Trending has partnered with the Tweetriver platform to display Twitter updates live on air, and “interest network” Sulia to help curate trending topics online.

The studio itself is in an impressive-looking loft overlooking the Hollywood hills, right down the street from the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Constructed from scratch about a month ago, the space represents a significant commitment from CBS — which at this stage has greenlit the show for the next six months, thanks to sponsorship by AT&T.

Guests appearing in the first episode will include The Young Turks‘s Cenk Uygur, Dancing with the Stars contestant Chelsea Kane, and political consultant Joe Trippi, and the show structure at this point is versatile enough to accommodate any sort of breaking news or exploding viral phenomenon. In last Wednesday’s test show, politics and tech news were in equal proportion to funny viral videos and actor interviews, either via Skype or in studio. YouTube Trends will provide videos of note each week, Good Magazine offers profiles of people using social media for good causes and Column Five Media is on board to create dynamic video infographics similar to the one below.


The Tuesday at 1 PM ET airtime was very specifically picked because, according to Lazar, it’s the highest-trafficked time online, and in addition the show will be packaged for VOD delivery on YouTube and CBS’s digital networks.

But who will watch live? “Definitely people possibly at work, working from home — which many are these days — and even college students out of class or after school. Part of this is that we’re early days for doing this, so we’re experimenting, and we might just discover over time there’s a better way to do it. Thankfully, we have that ability to experiment, make those changes and listen to our audience,” Lazar said.

The What’s Trending blog offers up daily updates, and Lazar promises that should a story break, she’ll still shoot standalone video segments (similar to her past work for CBS News interviewing breaking viral video stars). The key to the show, though, will be capturing that up-to-the-minute feel on a weekly basis.

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