Made up of some 2,000 loyal Fox Network viewers invited to join, the community lets members preview new shows, interact with TV producers, post comments, engage in online discussions and participate in polls.
"What comes out of this community is that we're taking 2000 of our loyal viewers and giving them a seat at the table in the decision-making process," said Melva Benoit, senior vice president for audience intelligence and research strategy at Fox.
The initiative will incorporate that input not just into TV programming decisions, but in developing network promotions and marketing campaigns and shaping content on Fox.com.
Benoit said the new online community would augment traditional research methods such as focus groups and formal surveys by fostering an ongoing dialogue with a single set of audience members whose views can be studied over time. "There's a great deal of value in that," she said.
The online community can also be used as an extra research tool to help refine decision-making. "If we distill a set of choices from 20 to 5 and still can't choose, I can tap into this group, and say: 'What do you think?''' Benoit said.
Justin Cooper, Passenger's co-founder and chief of innovation and marketing, said Fox was the second major TV network the company has worked with besides ABC, for which it has created a similar private online resource. "These communities are for very purposeful interaction, which sets them apart from standard communities providing an environment for hanging out," he said.
That's why Fox didn't turn to sister company and open social network MySpace, for instance, to develop the viewer site.
Outside the media industry, companies such as Coca-Cola, American Express, Fidelity and Mercedes-Benz have also used the Passenger platform to create customer Web communities. The three-year old company raised $8 million in third-round venture financing last month led by StarVest Partners.
With typical online groups of 2,000 or more in these brand communities, Cooper said clients can segment members by demographic, psychographic and other factors through personal information they agree to provide when joining. "It's not just about what they're saying, but who these people are and how they're behaving," he said.