Fox News Taps New Social-Media Tool

Use of new interactive poll set to expand in "Special Report with Bret Baier"

Fox News Channel is doing its bit to smash the glass that separates the people who talk on its air from the viewers at home who might like to offer their own take on issues up for discussion.

Since July, the cable network’s “Special Report with Bret Baier” has experimented with an on-screen tabulation known as the “Bing Pulse” during a panel discussion – first on the show’s once-a-week online program, and, starting August 9, once a week during its TV broadcast. The social tool – an instant poll of sorts – allows viewers to identify themselves by political affiliation and gender and then vote online to “agree” or “disagree” with what different members of a panel of guests say about a particular topic.

Starting today, “Special Report” will expand use of the “Pulse” to three times a week on its TV show, which airs weeknights at 6 p.m. Fox News is also expected to use the tool on “MediaBuzz” its new weekend media critique anchored by Howard Kurtz.

Use of the technology takes place, said Baier, as more viewers insist on having a direct means of interacting with the programs they watch, thanks to the increased prevalence of social media. “The next generation of viewer is going to expect more,” he said. “They are just going to want to have more ability to let their feelings be known and have some interaction and see some payoff.”

Baier and his panel will sometimes refer to the Bing results in the midst of their discussion, but he doesn’t want people in the group trying to shift the discussion to drive reaction among viewers. “We have walked that line of integrity, keeping the integrity of our show but still having this interchange at home.” Navigating that dynamic, he added, could be part of “the future of the business.”

Since the Bing tool debuted on air, Baier’s “Special Report” has seen ratings increase, according to Fox News. Citing Nielsen data, the network said “Special Report with Bret Baier” has, since the start of the Bing partnership,seen its audience grow by 21% among viewers between 25 and 54 – the demographic advertisers seek most in news programming – and by 3% in total viewers. For 2013 to date, “Special Report” averaged nearly 2 million in total viewers and over 300,000 in the key 25-54 demo, according to Nielsen.

Baier said the decision to use the interactive poll was driven editorially. His program has been early to appeal to viewers with new technology. Viewers of the weekly online program can comment on a chat board, for example, and often secure responses from talent and producers, while having questions and comments offered to panelists. Since that time, Microsoft, which owns Bing, has opened discussions with Fox News regarding potential advertising opportunities.

Using such technology introduces some wrinkles, Baier said – including having to take time during a program to explain how it works to the audience. “It is another layer logistically, but we think it’s worth it,” he said.

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