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Anderson Cooper Takes CNN to Facebook in Quest for Mobile Views

Anderson Cooper will not sit behind a desk for his newest show. He will not be surrounded by the bright red-and-white graphics blocks for which his news outlet is known. There’s no need. Anderson Cooper’s new CNN show will not be seen on CNN.

The program, “Full Circle,” debuts July 16, and will appear on Facebook Watch at 6:25 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s aimed at getting Cooper and CNN “where everybody is and increasingly will be,” says the anchor,  taking a break for an interview while visiting Allen & Co’s annual media-and-technology executive gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho. “On their mobile phone.”

CNN has experimented with other kinds of social-media programing in the recent past, airing a show called “The Update” on Snapchat for a period of four months.  Sending Cooper into the fray on Facebook, however, represents an even bigger trial, utilizing one of CNN’s best-known and longest-serving on-air personalities to strike a potential chord with a growing passel of viewers that doesn’t feel the need to make a daily or weekly appointment with a linear TV program.  Cooper will remain in the anchor chair for his primetime CNN show, “Anderson Cooper 360.”

“We see an opportunity with this show, which is to get into topics that are resonating across a wider array of the Facebook audience –  which is basically the world,” says Chris Berend, senior vice president of video for CNN, in an interview. An anchor on Facebook needn’t place the bulk of a show’s time on Washington politics, he adds. “On a phone, we just fundamentally believe that the options are oftentimes a bit wider.”

Cooper isn’t the only prominent news anchor stepping onto this field.  Shepard Smith of Fox News will host “Fox News Update” on Facebook Watch. ABC News will rely on several of its journalists for a new Facebook Watch show called “On Location.” Univision’s Jorge Ramos will host a Facebook program focused on interviews with immigrants on “Real America with Jorge Ramos.”  NPR’s Audie Cornish is teaming up with BuzzFeed for a weekly Facebook program that will feature newsmaker interviews in front of an audience. Others are testing the waters. Bloomberg plans to launch a weekly Facebook Watch series called “At What Cost?” that explains how the biggest stories affect consumers’ pocketbooks.

While the news outlets dabble in what seems like an ever-shifting effort to keep their journalism in front of harder-to-capture viewers, Facebook also stands to benefit if the new programs gain traction. The social-media giant is in the midst of recalibrating itself after facing accusations that false news stories are passed around too easily from one of its users to the next. “I’ve asked our product teams to make sure we prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post in January, adding, “There’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today. Social media enables people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them.”

Viewers who stream “Full Circle” Monday will see Cooper holding forth from Helsinki, site of the coming summit between President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Cooper says he will still do the expected, like interviewing news makers and CNN correspondents. But he hopes to use Facebook’s interactivity to let viewers do more of the work. They will get to ask questions of guests and point to what they think are the biggest topics of the day. “Full Circle” should last anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes, says Charlie Moore, executive producer of Cooper’s shows, but could go on longer if the conversation warrants.

The only rule for producing the program is not to adhere to the rules that govern TV broadcasting, suggests Moore. “We look at this as a way to reach an audience that otherwise might not be watching CNN,” he says. “We are going to try to tap into something that frankly is uncharted waters.”

CNN will make sure the show fits the vertical screen that is de rigueur for smartphones. Viewers won’t see Cooper on the left and his interviewee on the right. Instead, the screen may well be split between top and bottom when a guest comes on or when footage from a news scene needs to be shown. In mock-ups supplied by CNN, viewer remarks and emoji for an audience poll are superimposed over Cooper on a smartphone screen.

When Cooper broadcasts from New York, he says, viewers are likely to see a good chunk of his staff working out the news in real-time. “It’s just actually broadcast from our newsroom office, not from a formal set,” he explains. “It’s going to feel a lot more intimate – getting a peek behind the scenes as we are researching, as we are doing stuff. We will see people working – the producers, the bookers.“

While Cooper seems to be venturing into new territory, he says the Facebook program actually reminds him of how he got started in the industry. In one of his first jobs, Cooper worked for Channel One, the youth-oriented broadcaster that produced video reports for middle and high school audiences.  He decided to use the platform to report on conflicts overseas.

“It was much more of a cinema verite feel – turning on the camera, talking to the camera, and no formal standups. I think we want to bring some of that into our newscast, where you are not literally stuck behind a desk,” he says. “There’s more of a sense of the camera has just turned on, and what’s happening at 6:25 that day and you’re in our newsroom and your’re kind of part of the process.”

Both Cooper and Moore say they aren’t chasing younger viewers. Instead, they are pursuing audiences of all types. “My 94-year-old mother is on her iPhone all day long now,” Cooper notes. “So this is something she will be tuning into.”

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