Suffering for the loss of your favorite show – or wondering why your client has just urgently requested that you file ten different trademarks for “Magical Wonder”? It all boils down to data.
At present, because of the rapid changes in technology, measuring a brand’s success is a little… hazy.
For simplicity’s sake, I will discuss the brand of a TV show with the understanding that the same principles apply to measuring Coca-Cola’s influence even if things are done slightly differently.
I’ve taken the following excerpt from an American entertainment industry magazine (Variety) in an article titled “Ratings: Fox’s ‘Empire’ Hits Season Low, Still Dominates Wednesday“
“Fox drama “Empire” has dominated another Wednesday in the ratings race, but it fell to its season low as it nears the end of its fall run. A special one-time lead-in from “The Voice,” meanwhile, helped lift NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” to a season high.”
Staff at all of the networks, publicists, production companies, and advertisers eagerly pour over this information as soon as it is published. It can be the difference between a great day and a terrible day – depending on whether your show’s ratings are rising, falling, or stagnating.
Where does this information come from?
Accurate data can be gleaned from a number of different sources. The market leader is Nielsen but there are hundreds of companies that help to track online data for their clients.
Traditional Tracking – Nielsen
Traditionally, networks rely on Nielsen’s market research data, media buzz, and water-cooler conversation. This company (who has something of a monopoly on market research data) tracks viewer’s habits by interacting with the customer directly, and uses the information gleaned to accurately assess how the market is functioning.
For instance, according to recent Nielsen data “Empire” dominates the African-American market for all age groups. I also know from this fun article that cat lovers are more interested in Supergirl, The Goldbergs, or Scorpions than Empire.
Modern (Multi-Platform) Tracking – Social Media (etc.)
Every time you use a #hashtag, a market researcher gets new data.
This type of tracking is most useful for indicating what is important to the audience, what aspects of the creative work or campaign were successful, and how the audience interacts with the content. This is especially true for people who watch TV shows “live” and use social media to discuss their experience.
Social media data is used for any number of things, including research for campaigns preparing for a product launch as it is a more informal form of market research and “participants” provide information in a “real world” environment.
It is not as reliable for demographic information as, the online audience tends to lean towards specific age groups and people consume media in a plethora of different methods.
Media companies also like to utilize social media data because it allows them to address customer concerns / trends directly.
How accurate is it? / Why is it inaccurate?
Market research which is based on accurate data can provide reliable insights, information, and ideas but it is not perfect. This is because people are not 100% honest and the same data can often be used to come to a variety of conclusions. We are also limited by the fact that tracking technology has not caught up with media consumption technology.
Asking your audience “do you like this” “yes / no / maybe” can give an idea of what is clearly successful or not but it does not necessarily provide information about why it is a success.
In fact, answering the “why” aspects of audience behavior is such an art that many market research firms keep their methodology under lock-and-key as a means of protecting their business.
Going back to the “Empire” example above, if the character of Cookie does something particularly badass – Twitter will come alive with audience reactions. We don’t currently have the algorithms in place to turn all of these reactions from all of the different web resources into reliable data, but with time this will probably become even more sophisticated.
How will the ratings system change?
As technology evolves, and our understanding of the world around us becomes more data-driven, I imagine we will use these facts to test our hypothesis more and more. I also imagine that data will be available from as-of-yet unimagined sources. I am okay with this. I like to back up my assertions with as much data as possible.
As consumer behavior evolves, companies like Nielsen are working very hard to adapt as can be seen in this graph taken from their website:
Why is it important?
If the product owner has an idea of what their customers want, how they want it, when they want it… and who their customer is then they can better serve their customer’s needs.
There are some who would argue that all of this analysis can put a damper on creativity but I would counter that tracking data provides the sort of constructive criticism that creative professionals need in order to do their job.
What if you don’t have access to this information?
I don’t know. I know that Netflix currently has a company policy wherein they keep this sort of data under lock-and-key. According to the producers working for them, this is sometimes frustrating and sometimes confusing…. but it also seems to be working O.K. for them. According to Netflix, since they do not have any advertisers working with them, there is no need to publish this information. (Link)
I imagine that producers with shows online user feedback from other resources (such as social media) to have an idea of how they are performing with audiences.
When is it published / to whom is it distributed?
Tracking data is usually shared on a need-to-know basis. Traditional media relies heavily on advertising so it is particularly important for them to keep track of ratings information if they want to attract advertisers who will pay top dollar for the best time slots.
A certain amount of information can be gleaned by setting up an alert for certain keywords, for instance, but in general if a show is doing well you will hear about it from the people involved!
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