There are many shows that claim to be “talk shows for the Internet,” but there’s only one weekly hour-long celebration of what’s popular in web culture. And What’s Trending, created by Shira Lazar and Damon Berger, is determined to keep its dominance going while also attempting to grow into a full-fledged media brand.
The show, after a first season that ran from May to December 2011, is premiering its second season this Wednesday, with the first episode featuring comedian Margaret Cho and a live performance by John West. In addition, a What’s Trending app will hopefully be available for iOS devices sometime in the next week, allowing users to watch and chat live — plus a notification feature to let you know when the show is about to go live.
For this new season, Berger said in a phone interview that the show’s focus will stay on news as well as Internet culture — in general, “What’s happening online that people need to know about.”
“Trending topics are the new news, and there are communities out there not being served this stuff,” Berger said. This means the show’s coverage ranges from the latest meme, to Justin Bieber, to Occupy Wall Street — but with an eye toward entertainment. “When we’re at our best, we’re bringing you the people behind these stories in a fun and informative way,” he added.
Hip-hop artists will also continue to have a large presence on the show: “I’d like to say that it’s because I’m a huge hip-hop fan, but it’s not,” Berger said. “When it comes to social media, a lot of the people who have really gone after these tools are hip-hop artists — they were first to go out and energize those communities, and have built up huge followings. So there’s a lot of overlap.” (When you consider that the most tweeted event of 2011 was Beyonce announcing that she and husband Jay-Z were about to have a baby, it’s hard to deny that.)
That’s not all that’s on the horizon. While in its first season, What’s Trending would stream live on Tuesdays, for season two, the show is switching to Wednesdays. This is because, according to Berger, immediately after this year’s SXSW, Trending will launch two new vertical channels, which will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The reason for waiting until after SXSW is that the What’s Trending team is currently prepping for three days of live coverage from the SXSW Convention Center, in partnership with a “major” undisclosed brand. In addition, Lazar is hosting Oscar Dailies, a five-episode series for ABC and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences leading up to this year’s Academy Awards.
It’s not a bad comeback, given that last September many thought Trending was dead in the water after an erroneous Twitter update prematurely announced the death of Steve Jobs. After that mishap, Trending‘s original partner CBS News killed its partnership with the show,, and it had to quickly rebuild its online presence as an independent series.
When asked if she felt that CBS had overreacted to the Jobs tweet, Lazar said no — “They did what they needed to do, and it was beyond our control.” And the decision had an upside: “[Being independent] affords us to look at ourselves as entrepreneurs. Big partners are essential in that, but the do-it-yourself mentality lets us create something new and be pioneers,” Lazar said. “We weathered the storm — which proves the power of what we’re doing.”
And despite the separation from CBS, What’s Trending has managed to find an audience — during the week of CES 2012 (which Trending covered with a special episode live from Vegas), Trending videos across all platforms received over 100,000 views. No numbers are available for Trending‘s early episodes due to an NDA with CBS, but Berger characterized the show’s performance since those days as having “considerable growth.”
Looking forward, Lazar and Berger see this sort of event coverage as becoming a staple of Trending. “Being at big events is a really big deal for us — it allows us to take the conversation offline,” Lazar said. The team is already looking forward to covering Comic-Con, potentially in partnership with another brand.
And that event coverage, plus the planned verticals, are just part of Trending‘s strategy for evolving the show to the next level. “This year is really about going from one weekly live show, to building the brand out, to something much bigger,” Lazar said, “bridging the gap between traditional media and new media.”