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CNN Plots Expansion of ‘Citizen’ Conference (EXCLUSIVE)

CNN interacts with most of its viewers via TV screen or mobile device. In weeks to come, however, the news outlet hopes to start engaging its audience at state fairs and local festivals.

The AT&T-owned news network plans new extensions for the “Citizen by CNN” forum it launched last year that aims to spur viewers to develop a more active relationship with politics. In October of 2018, CNN debuted an invite-only “Citizen” conference in New York that included interviews with White House adviser Jared Kusher, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi along with remarks from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That event will take place once again on October 24, but it won’t take another year to lapse before it returns.

CNN is planning to bring a series of “experiences” to various parts of the nation throughout the 2020 campaign. “We see an opportunity to harness the energy around the participation and broaden out the brand, connect with audiences in a more personal way,” says Allie Kleva, CNN’s vice president of strategic partnerships and marketing, in an interview. CNN is in talks with potential sponsors for various elements of its plans, she added.

In an era when fans of content like to talk about them on Twitter, Instagram and other social-media outlets, a number of prominent media companies have realized they can no longer only interact with audiences via a screen. They need to meet viewers in more personal fashion. Little wonder, then, that Viacom has launched live events and concerts based on content from its Comedy Central and Nickelodeon cable networks, as has AT&T’s Adult Swim. Digital-media outlets like BuzzFeed and Refinery29 have also experimented with concepts that bring people together. The media outlets hope the consumers they gather will pass along news and video of the events via social media, hooking the interest of a broader base of potential customers. In some cases, advertisers hitch along for the ride, betting the audience will look upon their participation as part of the show. There are also bigger convocations, like the Atlantic Media Festival or the Aspen Ideas Festival, that often generate stories from other news outlets.

The goal is to get CNN more involved in its viewers’ lives, says Nitya Chambers, CNN’s vice president of content development, and to lend CNN new insight into audience behavior. “This puts us into how they are engaging with news and information on the ground, talking to them on their phones,” she says. “It will give us tools for understanding how news and information is intersecting with their lives, and driving the conversations they are having and the actions they are taking.”

This year’s “Citizen” conference is slated to include conversations with NBC late-night host Seth Meyers; Goldman Sachs senior chairman Lloyd Blankfein; former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power; and others. Jeff Zucker, chairman of news and sports for CNN parent WarnerMedia, will also take part in a segment of the conference. Zucker is the executive who directly oversees CNN.  Dana Bash, Jake Tapper, Brian Stelter, Poppy Harlow, Gloria Borger, Christiane Amanpour and Fareed Zakaria are among the CNN staff expected to appear.

Following the event, CNN intends to bring “Citizen”-branded displays to stops in so-called “battleground” states; future political debates; the Democratic and Republican national conventions; and various concerts and festivals. A camper branded with the “Citizen by CNN” logo will appear at some of the events, and the news outlet plans to partner with  voter registration organizations and offer coverage from on its CNN’s digital properties, including a social “On the Road” initiative, that will provide sights and sounds from the 2020 campaign trail via CNN’s social media accounts.


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