Q&A With ESPN's Artie Bulgrin

Artie Bulgrin, SVP Research and Analytics for ESPN, has also worked on the vendor side at Nielsen Research and CAP Cities/ABC in National Television Sales. His current work at ESPN includes research studies on the sports fan experience and analyzing media and new technology trends through his company's Media Lab, based in Texas. 

There are four separate videos in this interview, covering a range of subjects including set top box data, the "Fan Experience,, ESPN's Media Lab and an assessment of future trends in the media landscape. Links to the interview videos can be found at the WeislerMedia blog at

Charlene Weisler: Artie, what do you think is the most dramatic change in the industry that's occurred in the past five years?

Artie Bulgrin: When I came on board at ESPN 13 years ago, the focus was purely on cable television and television ratings. I think all of us on that side of the business who were focusing on strengthening audience measurement for cable networks realize that it has evolved. We have created multi-faceted research departments ranging from audience research, which is established, to primary research that measures consumer insights for building brands and understanding consumer behavior. For many of us, especially at ESPN, we are currently focused on really understanding cross-media behavior. Not just television behavior but how people are using all digital outlets. We are in the audio business. We are in the print business. So it is not just about TV anymore. It's about understanding the holistic viewer experience. We call it the "fan experience."

 Charlene Weisler: Can you share some insights about the "fan experience"?

 Artie Bulgrin: We have invested a lot of time and money in the past few years researching sports fan media behavior, culminating most recently in a major study we did with Sequent Partners and Ball State University where we shadowed 50 young male sports fans to help understand how they use the individual media touch points, and the role that sports and media play in the context of life itself.

From that we created the seven principles of cross-media measurement and behavior. The fundamentals are this: Sports fans consume much more media than the average American does because they have to consume sports in the moment. Very little sports on television is consumed on a time-shifted basis. Virtually all of it is consumed live. There is this phenomena of "social currency" - big sports fans have to follow the information on a daily basis. So the new digital media, whether it be a PDA, a laptop, any sort of access to the Web or Web video has been embraced by the sports fans because they can be in contact with sports on a daily basis. So they consume a lot of sports but traditional media has not suffered. Media use is not a zero sum game. Media use continues to grow. And that is because these new digital technologies create what we call "new markets of time". We have new opportunities to consume media where we never could before.

The other thing we know a lot about is the "available screen philosophy." Television continues to thrive because if television is available it is certainly the best screen to watch sports. But if I can't be near a tv I will go to my computer - or, what is really growing now, is the use of mobile devices.  In fact it could be the most prolific and perhaps the most engaging device in the next few years.

Charlene Weisler: Is there anything that you would like to add?

Artie Bulgrin: The only thing I would add is that there is a lot of misinformation in the industry which slows us down. When you come to work each day there are things that come through the email or in the press that are actually ill-informed. What worries me is that many major decisions are made on this information that is actually misinformation. So we have to work harder as researchers both on the client side and on the vendor side to be more responsible as to how we communicate findings.

There is a lot of bad research out there. There is a lot of great research out there. We have to be very focused as to how we separate what is mediocre and not good from what is. Researchers, particularly new researchers coming into the industry, have to focus on methodology quality - really understanding what works and what doesn't. We have to be very careful of falling into the trap of doing "fun" things that fall into the qualitative area but are not really projectable to anything. We have to understand that the scientific method in research is absolutely necessary before producing results for decision making. It is not about one type of research -- one type of research doesn't do it. There are roles for different types of research - ethnography, set top box data, sample based data - it all has to be able to work together. That is why there is a need for trained professionals in the research industry to know what works and what doesn't.

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