Enter Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman earlier this month, who heralded a 15%+ increase as the company looks to prune consumer insights. The results are helping steer content development, which is going through a revival at MTV Networks. Executives have more to draw from when crafting pitches to marketers.
MTVN has long been known for its relentless focus on its current audience -- and the next generation. "It really informs the work that everyone does here," said MTVN CEO Judy McGrath.
Yet along with Dauman's comments, there is at least one other sign of perhaps a research re-commitment: Colleen Fahey Rush being named to the newly created post of Chief Research Officer.
MTVN faces challenges of building viewership as its target audience glues mobile devices to palms, can't get enough of social media and watches shows on laptops. Fahey Rush will try to capitalize on those trends, while upgrading its established businesses.
She'll be a sort of data locus, while overseeing a group of about 100 staffers, who delve into the preferences of families (Nickelodeon), 40-somethings (TV Land) and young men (Jon Stewart).
With MTVN's sprawling portfolio, Fahey Rush has to have a certain nimbleness. On programming, there is jumping from cartoons on Nickelodeon to ultimate fighting on Spike. In other aspects, she's analyzing how to take advantage of set-top-box data, measure social media and upgrade MTVN's "radical audience intimacy" techniques. She's also sorting through ratings and focus-group findings to swiftly make presentations to executives or advertisers.
"Colleen is an excellent decoder," Judy McGrath said. "She takes complex metrics, as well as deep consumer insights, finds the themes and trend lines, and creates the perfect bite-sized takeaway." Outside MTVN, Fahey Rush serves on multiple industry boards, perhaps most notably as executive chairman of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement. The high-profile group -- funded by media companies, advertisers and agencies -- has looked to find cutting-edge ways to exploit STB data and capture cross-platform viewing metrics.
"She immediately could see the benefit to both media buyers and sellers of a deeper understanding of how consumers use all forms of media," said CIMM managing director Jane Clarke.
MTVN is trying new programming tactics at some of its networks. CMT and TV Land are both moving into original comedy. Nameplate MTV is posting strong ratings with what it might describe as "authentic" reality series. Fahey Rush & Co. have provided counsel before the investments. "You can't just be a good researcher," Fahey Rush said. "You have to be a great activator for the insights within the organization." MTVN research uses a "radical audience intimacy" technique. Online surveys and other tried-and-true tactics are fine. But what about researchers moving in with a teen for the weekend? Or secluding a bunch of men on a dude ranch hoping the setting will lead to honest conversation?
There's no telling how many insights the house-sharing has yielded over the years. The dude ranch led to a promo campaign for Spike.
One of the more intriguing recent initiatives was a Comedy Central "deprivation study," looking to learn more about its late-night audience. The research was prompted in part by Conan O'Brien's shift to TBS, making him a further competitor with the "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report."
Fahey Rush & Co. took 200 avid late-night viewers and asked them to avoid all contact with the two shows for a week. No watching, but no discussing them or visiting related Web sites, either. Heartening results showed a passionate fan base, where 80% indicated they really missed the shows and "felt completely out of the loop without them."
Fair enough. But then, 45% said they would give up alcohol; 38% would forgo pizza; and 10% quit sex -- rather than have access to hosts Stewart and Stephen Colbert permanently shut off.
Speaking generally about results of Fahey Rush's studies, industry researcher Charlene Weisler said she often finds herself saying: "I hadn't thought about that before." Has the MTVN sales team developed a presentation: "Clever Jabbing of Fox News Better Than Sex?"