Let’s be honest: it is complicated being an audience researcher for a broadcaster. Gone are the days when most prime time TV shows got double-digit ratings and the only reviews to worry about were those of the notoriously cynical newspaper journalist. Now, when a new TV program disappoints, thousands of people can share their own negative opinions about it on social media, in discussion forums or on the show’s website. But are these opinions representative of the entire audience’s appreciation of the relevant piece of content?
In short, no. Broadcasters should not assume those views shared online are representative of the wider audience, or see them as explaining why a program is underperforming. There are many reasons for poor ratings, including scheduling and marketing.
As you’ll know only too well, audience reactions to content change over time. Not only must you keep a constant check on audience opinions, but you’ll want to benchmark your content’s performance against similar programs. And you need to do this with a real audience. It’s crucial to do this with real viewers who watch programs every day of the week – not just with a group of people who are vocal on social media. We call these “Appreciation Panels”.
Impossible? Not necessarily. With Appreciation Panels, you can obtain daily feedback from real viewers in a specified market. Using a short online survey, you can anonymously poll a representative group of respondents on anything they’ve watched in a given day.
In just a few minutes, panel members will reveal what programs they’ve watched, what they liked or disliked about them, or what could have been improved. Some panel members even write mini essays on their favorite show. Others provide raw, honest feedback on why watching a particular program was a waste of their time.
Shortly after the broadcast, you can dive into this treasure trove of information. By asking panel members to rate the program on a scale of one to ten, you are provided with a key indicator of whether or not a show is healthy and successful. But this is only one of the many questions that can be asked. If it’s a drama series you’re researching, you can ask the audience about the actors or storyline. If your focus is a news program, you could ask about the topics covered and the presentation style. Asking panelists about what they liked and what could be improved is always beneficial too.
Knowing all of this about a program is no guarantee that it will be a success. Creating successful TV content – whether a news program or drama series – is not simply dependent on following up on audience feedback. However, it can prevent directors and producers from overlooking essential adjustments that could help to improve a program. And it can help channel planners determine if a program is targeting the right audience at the right time, or if it is a failure and should be taken off the air. Additionally, it can highlight when a program is eliciting positive viewer reactions but lacking high TV ratings, indicating that it might benefit from modifications to how it is promoted.
Audience research is a powerful tool. One that can be used across media – TV, radio and even websites – to improve content and programing. The key to harnessing its power, however, lies in ensuring you are working with a Content Appreciation Panel that is representative of your target audience.
Lex van Meurs is a Media Research Director at GfK. To share your thoughts, please email email@example.com or leave a comment below.
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