Mr. TV: Behind the Numbers

Given my fascination with ratings, I don’t think anyone will be too surprised to learn that my background is in audience research. Yes, I had the occasional programming gig. And, true, I wanted to be the next Brandon Tartikoff. But research is where I honed my skills, and I think it’s the fastest changing and most challenging facet of this entire business today. I recently spoke with two veteran researchers from Warner Bros. Media Research—evp Bruce K. Rosenblum and svp Liz Huszarik—about the state of the industry from a research perspective.  

Tell me how many years you have been working at Warner Bros.
Rosenblum: We have been a team for 20 years. Over this time, we have seen a lot of change.

Talk about some of those changes.
Rosenblum: Our department has moved from being data and information driven to insight and intelligence oriented. At the same time, viewing has evolved from a single viewing platform to multiple platforms. Linear television still captures the majority of eyeballs, but people are also watching content via a multitude of other devices where, when and how they want it. While our currency forces us to maintain a ratings-centric perspective, we are now equally focused on the behaviors of our audiences as they take advantage of the growing list of viewing platforms.

Huszarik: We need to understand the why behind the numbers. It’s no longer a simple “How did we do in the overnights or the finals nationals?”  Once upon a time, for example, just reporting on the ratings for a newsmagazine like TMZ would be enough. But now there is a TV show, a Web site, an iPhone app, breaking news alerts and video distribution initiatives. Many other benchmarks are present including measuring awareness levels, promotional support and the Internet buzz.    

How does this all impact the workplace?
Rosenblum: Our staff has grown to accommodate the shift from a division primarily supporting domestic television sales to one that supports domestic cable sales, national ad sales, marketing, station relations and finance. We also collaborate regularly with business units across the company including Consumer Products, Home Entertainment, Telepictures Productions, Worldwide TV Marketing, Human Resources and the broader Time Warner Research Council.                                                                                         

Huszarik: To meet these new demands, our department consists of specialists who support sales development, digital research initiatives, research systems and graphics, as well as statistics and data mining.   

Outside of the traditional ratings coverage, how readily available is all this information?
Huszarik: It is very challenging, no doubt, and Nielsen is busy playing catch-up. Part of our jobs is to convey to Nielsen what we need to support the company’s business agenda. Right now the emphasis is on C3 data, DVR measurement and the TV Everywhere initiative. Mobile measurement is also top of mind but not readily available.  

Rosenblum: The research community needs to realize this is no longer just about Nielsen. Rentrak, which measures home video and VOD and Comscore, is a major player in the online measurement space. Canoe Ventures and CIMM are organizations looking closely at improving measurement methodologies. Canoe is exploring the viability of set-top box measurement and addressable advertising. CIMM is not only looking at set-top box, but also viewing behavior across all digital media distribution platforms.   

So is all this flux exciting or just plain scary?
Huszarik: This is an exciting and invigorating time to be involved in this changing world of technology and business models. We think of this change as an opportunity.