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Influencing the Influential

When executives from The N, the teen-focused digital network, put out word that they would host a summit for adolescent bloggers, school newspaper reporters and other social networkers in New York last month, the event attracted 200 participants, including kids who paid their own way from as far away as Texas and Florida.

The youthful “influencers” were anxious to participate in a question-and-answer session with talent from two of the network’s shows: Degrassi: The Next Generation, about a fictional high school, and the surf culture-centered Beyond the Break. But the teens also pigeon-holed network senior vice president of production and programming Sarah Tomassi Lindman to ask very sophisticated questions about the network and its programming.

“I got cornered for quite a while,” she said of the Dec. 16 summit in Manhattan, where she was peppered with questions on everything from the network’s ratings to her vision on The N’s mission as a service.

CLOSER ENCOUNTERS

The summit was part of the channel’s effort to get closer to its audience: The N recently announced it would solicit opinions from a 10,000-member research panel, the members of which are currently being selected. These teens will opt into polling, beginning in late January. The information gathering will be conducted via mobile phones, and the panelists will be queried on everything from their lifestyles and network programming, to advertising, events and other topics.

Although some of the summit participants will be asked to become involved with the panel, Tomassi Lindman said she wants tweens who aren’t watching The N to be a part of the group, too. The research is part of the network’s ongoing commitment to a “360-degree approach to teens’ lives,” she said.

For the summit, The N partnered with FAME Media and its impresario, Stav Vaisman, to reach out to teens with prominent MySpace destinations, school-age reporters and popular teen bloggers.

Executives at The N figured the summit would prove popular because when the network hosts fan-focused meet-and-greets featuring series stars, the events are usually mobbed. But these participants were more focused on learning about the business of the shows, and about the network.

“This reinforced our feeling that they are really engaged with the brand. They can be engaged and excited and yet be critical,” said Tomassi Lindman. “They don’t always understand the business, but it’s great to hear what they’re passionate about.”

One nettlesome question emanated from a lack of understanding about the business, as a young reporter grilled the general manager about The N’s focus on girls, asking why the network doesn’t include more programming aimed at teen boys.

Research shows teen girls and boys don’t watch the same thing, and the network doesn’t have the resources to target both, Tomassi Lindman explained. “It’s so hard to have a two-prong strategy; we don’t have the money for that,” she said.

'DEGRASSI’ DEVOTEES

Though most of the teens were serious communicators, a couple pressed Tomassi Lindman about how they might appear on Degrassi.

Does that approach work?

“Very rarely,” the executive said.

Most of those who inquire do not have long-term acting aspirations, she said, but are enamored of Degrassi and would just like to be in that fictional high-school world.