Rules of Viewer Engagement

What kind of research should cable networks offer the advertiser community to distinguish themselves and reap more revenue? Viewer-engagement studies are one method that Scripps Networks Inc.'s family of services has utilized over the past three years.

However — as Scripps officials learned last week from a meeting with agency officials conducted at its Food Network studios here — the wont of additional dollars requires even more information and third-party documentation.

Viewer-engagement reports detail how much attention people pay to the TV they watch. The idea is that if viewers develop an emotional or intellectual bond with specific programs or channels, they're more likely to carry those associations over to the products that are touted in commercials, Scripps officials concluded.

Separately, Interpublic Group's Initiative Media division — based on two years of work with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — recently declared that engagement is a valuable research metric that should be further pursued.

"If we demonstrate that we deliver a more enthusiastic and engaged viewer, more responsive to advertising in this environment, it's a better deal for the ad buyers and that would be reflective in what they'd be willing to spend for our stuff," said Scripps vice present of research Mike Pardee. "The other motive is to get considered by buyers or planners to include us with other cable opportunities."

Pardee and other Scripps ad colleagues assembled a group of agency executives and researchers to comment on the process before going forward with another engagement study this fall. Carat USA Inc., Media Edge and OMD were among the major agencies represented.

At times, the feedback sounded constructive; at others, it came across as nitpicking.

"We get so many of these [research reports from cable channels] that we throw them to the side," one attendee said. "It has to be substantiated to be more viable … If I had a food product, I'd consider this more. If I had a product not adherent to one of your networks, I wouldn't automatically do it."

Another executive questioned the 2003 study's credibility, noting that Scripps did the research — which involved phone interviews with 2,000 cable and DBS subscribers selected at random from information provided by ICR Excel — in-house.

"Any research done by a media company is favorable to them," he said. "It's always favorable to the company. I'd like to see a third-party researcher involved."

Survey requests

Others also called for Scripps to support its findings with comparatives to Nielsen Media Research or other sources.

Among the other requests: Break out the level of engagement by daypart; demonstrate the length of time people spend watching a program or network; encourage the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau to supply some data; and conduct a viewer-engagement study that covers all cable services.

With the number of agencies present, "there was bound to be posturing and laying down what people need. That was anticipated," Pardee said a few hours after the meeting. "But this was productive because you came away with concrete steps of what we could do with this research."

"I applaud their effort to go above and beyond the numbers," said Carat USA programming-services manager Billie Gold. "As a whole, cable is making an effort to give us more types of research, and that's helping those channels get a lot more budget from us."

Added Media Edge managing partner Lyle Schwartz: "Will it go so far as what some people want? No. When a company takes the time and effort to do this kind of research, as Scripps did, they get points for that."

All four Scripps channels — Food, Home & Garden Television, Do-It-Yourself Network and Fine Living — ranked high in the survey for providing fulfilling experiences and trustworthy information. The report covered 24 cable networks, with at least 200 participants asked about the attributes of each network.

Pardee said he will tweak the next report to corroborate the results with other sources.

"We might get some parallel information from Nielsen or Simmons, maybe get some findings from CAB, and release everything in one shot," he said. "What I plan to do first is go back to some of the people who came and follow up with them."