Target: 'Fully Engaged' Viewers
Initiative Media/MIT research suggests they channel-surf less, recall more
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/3/2003 8:00:00 PM
In a perfect world for TV advertisers, their target audiences would be glued to the set every time their commercials air. But, as any viewer with a working remote knows, it doesn't quite work that way. Not in a world where there are just too many distractions, from household chores to the dozens, if not hundreds of other programs that can be glimpsed during a commercial break.
|Watch This Ad—or Don't|
|Channel Surfers||Brand-Recall Level|
|Source: Initiative Media: Favorite vs. Occasional Program Study, April 2003
|"Fully engaged" viewers||45%||20%|
And making the ad world even less perfect in the future, potentially anyway, are technological advances like the commercial-zapping personal video recorder.
But is it possible that some shows are just so good and so compelling that viewers hang around for the commercials—or at least for more of them, while surfing less—so as not to miss a single second of the program?
It's a question the researchers at Initiative asked themselves and, in collaboration with media scholars at MIT, tried to answer in a series of recent online surveys about how viewers interact with the tube. And the answer appears to be yes.
Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive vice president, director of global research integration, Initiative Media, says that about 6% of the audience for the average prime time program claims to be "fully engaged" (they "try never to miss an episode"). But, for some shows, such as American Idol, the percentage of fully engaged viewers is much higher—about 80%, according to the Initiative/MIT research. And among those viewers, the number that channel-surf during the show is just 1%—which is extraordinary in today's viewing universe.
Here's why that's important: The Initiative/MIT research also found that, among fully engaged viewers, recall of advertised brands almost doubles, to 30% from 17%. Brand recall also doubles among viewers who watch without surfing and among those who watch in groups (with friends or family) as opposed to alone.
So the trick for the advertiser, it would seem, is to find and buy groups of shows with high levels of attentive viewers who match the target audience of the product being marketed.
Lots of questions remain unanswered, and Initiative and MIT are still in the early phases of research designed to provide greater insight into the relationship between viewers and the shows they watch.
Ultimately, what Initiative hopes to do is incorporate a new metric into its media-planning and buying to better quantify that audience/viewing-pattern relationship. Initiative calls the new metric "expression" (as opposed to impression, or exposure), the aim of which is to pinpoint audiences that are more receptive to ad messages, be they traditional spots or product placement. The hope is that planning and buying become more efficient and "go beyond a blanket exposure measure of gross rating points," says Koerner.
The company has already introduced an "expression index" into the planning for some client brands. As the research progresses, says Koerner, the index will be refined and enhanced. "The first phase was to validate that there was a reason to investigate engaged viewers. Knowing that the question then becomes how do we qualify and quantify that engagement in order to best reach them" and find ways to help advertisers get their messages across more effectively.
Some of the stuff that Initiative and MIT are finding out is down right scary. Who knew that fully engaged viewers of the science-fiction genre also tend to be seriously into buddy-cop dramas? Not just any cop dramas, mind you, but buddy-cop dramas.
And how exactly was that determined? "A little intuition and a lot of hard work," responds Koerner, some what vaguely. While Initiative hopes to get its expression metric down to a science (hence MIT's involvement), there's a limit on how much detail it will share with the outside world. Many of the detailed findings are proprietary.
But that sci-fi/buddy-cop link is just the kind of drilling down that future research by the two organizations will focus on to better understand viewing patterns.
"It goes beyond genres," says Koerner, to program viewing trends that she describes as "clusters of taste cultures. Just as people don't watch networks, they don't watch genres either. There are normative patterns of groups of programming that people watch based on everything that makes them as a person." So those sci-fi/buddy-cop-drama junkies probably watch other shows as well. And Initiative and MIT are going to find out which ones.
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