For its new science fiction series “Fringe,” Fox is employing some sci-fi type research that shows advertisers probably will get a bigger bang for their buck from the show’s new, low-commercial format.
The research, including biometric tests that measure viewers’ perspiration, breathing and eyeball movement, also shows that they like the program with fewer commercials.
Fox introduced what it calls “Remote Free TV” during its upfront presentation to advertisers in May, promising that “Fringe,” premiering Tuesday, and “Dollhouse,” due in January, would have half the commercials of its normal programming. The format is designed to keep viewers from changing the channel or using digital video recorders to fast-forward through ads.
Advertisers have long complained that TV shows are too cluttered with advertising, and Fox’s idea won praise from media buyers. During the upfront, some clients were willing to pay significantly higher prices for ads in the new shows because of the Remote Free format.
Jean Rossi, executive VP for sales at Fox and president of multiplatform sales unit Fox One, declined to name the advertisers who signed up for Remote Free TV, but said they include companies in the movie, auto, electronics, video gaming and telecom categories. Those clients are being encouraged to run ads of 30 seconds and longer to create an environment that’s more entertaining.
Media buyers also wanted Fox to do research to show that clients were getting more for their money.
“This all started from client demand for a way to create an opportunity for people to showcase creative and get their message out and break through the clutter,” Ms. Rossi said. “We, from our point of view, were looking for a way to protect our scripted shows and give them a forum that would bring more viewers to the set.”
She said Fox added research beyond the usual Nielsen and IAG Research engagement data to the package “so we could come across with specific research to prove to our clients that it’s working.”
That led Fox to hire Innerscope Research.
“We knew we had to have a big win, clearly. We knew we had to have very nuanced measurement,” said Audrey Steele, senior VP for sales and research marketing at Fox. “We’ve wanted to work with Innerscope for a long time, and we thought this was the perfect opportunity.”
Innerscope’s biometric approach gave Fox the ability to measure engagement in ways that go beyond simply viewer attention.
“We really wanted something that could quantify, without people having to report, their level of enjoyment of both the show and the ads in there,” Ms. Audrey said.
Carl Marci, Innerscope’s co-founder and CEO, said his company uses biometrics to measure emotions, which are the prime determinants of all kinds of complex behaviors. The reactions it picks up are on the subconscious level as the audience receives stimuli—in this case TV programming.
Participants in a research facility were shown the “Fringe” pilot, with one randomly selected group seeing it with the normal commercial load while the others saw half the commercial load. Their reactions were measured in multiple ways.
Fox was hopeful it would see a lift in results in three of the five tests, Ms. Steele said. Surprisingly, it got large, positive results in all five, she said.
In one test, viewers wear a wireless vest that records skin conductivity, heart rate and respiration—all indicators of arousal and stimulation. The vest also employs a motion detector that tracks whether a viewer is leaning toward the TV or rocking back and forth.
“When people lean in, they’re more involved than when they’re not,” Mr. Marci said.
Innerscope, which defines emotional engagement as a combination of attention plus an emotional response, found the show scored 21% higher in the Remote Free TV format.
The research showed 80% of the ads that were shown to both groups of viewers were more engaging to those in the Remote Free group.
Viewers were engaged 91% of the time during the shorter ad breaks, compared to 75% of the time during the normal-length breaks. The 75% figure shows “Fringe” is a pretty engaging program regardless of format. During an average show, viewers are engaged 63% of the time during commercial pods.
Some viewers also were eye-tracked to measure how much time they spent focused on the screen. Viewer attention was 31% higher among those who saw the show with fewer spots.
Other viewers were given remote controls while watching the “Fringe” pilot, and the company found that 70% of those watching the show with a full commercial load did some fast-forwarding in every break, compared with only 30% of those watching the Remote Free format, a 136% difference.
Innerscope found that among Remote Free viewers, there was a 22% decrease in commercial-skipping from the first half of the show to the second half.
“They were learning that it just wasn’t worth hitting the fast-forward button,” Mr. Marci said.
There was a 9% increase in fast-forwarding among those watching the cluttered version of the show, which indicates they were eager to get back to the show, he said.
Innerscope also asked some viewers which commercials they recalled. Unaided recall was 250% higher for Remote Free viewers, who remembered 21% of the ads they were shown, versus 6% among those who saw more ads. Ad likability was 61% higher in the uncluttered environment.
In focus groups, the participants made favorable comments about Remote Free TV. One said it wasn’t worth fast-forwarding when breaks are just a minute and a half long. “I’m not going to lose that much of my life if I just wait,” the viewer said.
More viewers in the Remote Free group also said they were likely to watch future episodes of “Fringe” than in the group that saw more commercials.
The show was engaging also, Mr. Marci said, “and that carried into the ads.”
The tests were conducted in July. The ads used in the test were taken from an episode of Fox’s “House” that was airing at the time.
The results were presented to advertisers last week.
Fox plans to do more testing once “Fringe” goes on the air, Ms. Rossi said, and the network still has some commercial time available in the show.
“We can’t wait to use this research to get out and sell it,” she said.