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Researchers find sweet spot in Las Vegas

Apr 8, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Odds have always been stacked against network TV pilots getting strong initial audience sampling-it’s sort of like gambling the mortgage on the roulette wheel. That’s why MRCGroup, a Las Vegas-based research company, is getting network and studio executives to realize the value of focus group testing in the gambling capital of the world.
MRCGroup CEO Jim Medick said the 10-year-old research company is expecting to conduct focus groups on about three dozen shows this pilot season. A number of advertisers also will test commercial spots within some pilots, Mr. Medick said.
“We found in running commercials [within the pilots’ breaks] there really is a direct correlation between the viewers’ receptiveness to the show and [their] recall [of] the advertisers’ messages,” said Mr. Medick, who once served as a marketing executive at Procter & Gamble and Mattel.
The marriage of the programming and advertising research seems like a natural for MRCGroup as well as CBS, which set up its own Las Vegas focus group operation at the MGM Grand Hotel in April 2001. Where MRCGroup, works with traditional advertiser/TV research consulting companies such as Frank Magid Associates and MarketCast to integrate some of their research methodologies, CBS also has forged a long-term partnership with A.C. Nielsen Co. to compile data at the Viacom Networks/CBS MGM Grand focus group space.
David Poltrack, CBS’s executive VP of research and planning who oversees the Las Vegas research venture, said that CBS is already talking to some advertisers about buying into series packages, which would include the testing of their spots in TV shows put in front of focus groups.
“By integrating their [commercial] messages into the testing process, we do think they’ll see it as a valuable tool for discerning the effectiveness and efficiency of their spots in a much lower risk, laboratory-like setting,” Mr. Poltrack said. He also noted that CBS Plus, the network’s umbrella sales arm (including sales of UPN shows), is approaching advertisers on the added-value advertising/research packages.
Since moving MRCGroup from Princeton, N.J., to Las Vegas in 1996, Mr. Medick and his wife, Lee, the company’s president, have been successfully preaching the benefits of integrating advertising and TV programming content within an integrated research environment. The 25,000-square-foot MRCGroup Research Institute facility, a block east of the Vegas Strip, is one of the largest focus-group testing sites in the country. The facilities boast a 48-seat media test theater, three focus group suites and an Internet-based research preview studio delivering two-way video and audio data streaming of TV shows, commercials and on-air promotion spots to a pool of over 100,000 broadband-connected PC users.
“Increasingly, the margin for error has to be minimized as much as possible because of the growing cost of the message and the growing number of media outlets competing for viewers’ eyeballs,” Mr. Medick said.
The MRCGroup methodologies and equipment are somewhat similar to what CBS’s focus group center uses at the MGM Grand. The CBS/A.C. Nielsen venture has a pair of 25-seat testing theaters and two focus group conference rooms-all of which are wired for video conferencing and two-way Internet connections-that are spotlighted within a Viacom Networks retail outlet center (operated by MGM Grand) and various promotional video displays and kiosks.
Mr. Poltrack said the CBS-led focus group venture and MRCGroup also have “reciprocal” facility usage arrangements, useful when CBS and advertiser clients want to maintain confidentiality in using an outside focus group center. Mr. Medick and Mr. Poltrack also share an unbridled assessment of Las Vegas-which, with a population of 1.4 million, is one of the fastest growing U.S. cities and garners about 36 million tourists annually-in providing a wide range of age- and income-based demographics.
Mr. Medick contended that Las Vegas seems to be more of a “representative” cross-section of the country’s age and income demographics than Los Angeles, where he thinks the market has “burned out.”