Ryan Seacrest: Tech is changing the audience

In an interview with CNET, the "American Idol" host talks about how technology is giving viewers more say in the product they are watching.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
'American Idol' host Ryan Seacrest walks the red carpet on Tuesday at Microsoft's Bing event in Los Angeles. Ina Fried/CNET

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif.--Though best known as host of "American Idol" and "American Top 40," Ryan Seacrest is also a big techie.

In between spinning songs on the radio, Seacrest is nearly always checking his BlackBerry, reading the latest tweets and e-mail from his staff. He's also a former CNET Central host and one of the handful of people that Bill Gates follows on Twitter. But the most important thing about technology, Seacrest said, is the way it allows him to have a closer relationship with his audience.

"'The amount of information [you get from technology] combined with the dialogue you have with the audience, is good," he said in an interview, after emceeing a panel discussion on the future of entertainment at a Bing event here on Tuesday.

Here's a transcript of our chat:

Q: In the panel, we started to get into this conversation on how technology is changing the relationship with the audience. In what other ways is technology changing entertainment from where you sit?
Seacrest: Whether it's "Idol," "American Top 40," or whatever it is that I am specifically involved in...the amount of information [you get from technology] combined with the dialogue you have with the audience, is good. In the type of program that I produce and I host, it's a good thing. We want them to feel connected to us doing it. Usually it's in real time. "American Idol" is in real time, so it's much like a sporting event. You want to know that people are out there and that people are rooting for a specific contestant and that they identify with them. In this world of everyone moving faster--and I'm talking about an audience, and working harder and raising kids by ourselves, or just adding things to our plate--the ability to engage in something as a family and feel like you are a part of it on that scale is good, and fun and escapism, and we need that now.

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You've also tried to use technology and the stage you have to bring people closer to a world that is pretty far away, with idol Gives Back and things like that.
Seacrest: Social networking has allowed people to give to something that they have seen on television or seen on the Internet, immediately via text. Just last night we did it on CNN where people retweeted a tweet and every time they retweeted something it was 10 bucks from Bing. We raised a hundred grand like that. That's a great thing. You can get involved in a way that you couldn't simply (before).

Everything has good and bad. In technology, are there things that make you go, "I'm a little worried about this?" For some people it's privacy.
Seacrest: There are plenty of important things that we have to manage as we grow. There's always going to be people who try to break the rules. But, as long as we are managing that and putting an all-hands-on-deck team on that, the ability to tap into people's brains and minds and creativity and thought process and enlightenment in an instant, around the world, is fascinating. It allows you also to understand different cultures, people's different backgrounds, so I think that's good.

Are you the biggest techie on "Idol?"
Seacrest: On "Idol," on the cast? Ellen's very savvy. I don't know because I don't spend all of my time with them, but I enjoy it. I like it. I embrace it. I find it fascinating. I don't master all of it. I'm like anybody else, still trying to figure something out. It certainly has allowed me to engage in a conversation with an audience on a grand scale that I like.

What are the pieces you use the most?
I'm on a BlackBerry all the time. I'm using obviously interoffice communication, but I scroll through tweets when I am on the radio live during a song. I'll ask them what they want to hear next. When people are listening to "American Top 40" around the world, I can see instantly what countries (they are from). I love it. It's just a tool, but I am fascinated.