Daily Management Review

Reading the Mind of the Viewers is the Latest Aim of Labs Started by TV Networks


Reading the Mind of the Viewers is the Latest Aim of Labs Started by TV Networks
With the aim of understanding what shows and commercials people like to watch, TV networks are trying a new tactic: read the minds of the viewers.
Two of the top TV companies of the world, Comcast Corp's NBCUniversal and Viacom Inc are each opening labs where they will study TV viewers in mock living rooms filled with infrared cameras tracking their biometrics. The biometrics would include such things as eye movements and facial reactions made while hooked up to skin sensors and heart monitors.
Electroencephalograms (EEGs) to monitor peoples' brain waves while watching television would be included in the Viacom's lab which is being built in New York.
Facial coding and biometrics along with eye tracking and EEGs would form part of the curriculum at the lab of the ratings firm Nielsen Holdings, which just bought neuroscience firm Innerscope Research earlier this year.
Using technologies which were primarily based on surveys and asking watchers to turn dials about what they like and don't were almost the only means that TV networks have tried for years to find out about what viewers think. The new biometric data taps straight into physical response avoiding questions.
"The problem is that when you ask someone how they respond to things, they sometimes think about it or they overthink it. This is the closest to what's going on inside your brain," said Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBCU.
Networks see neuroscience and biometrics as a way for them to target ads better and improve relations with advertisers as more viewers fast-forward through ads, and advertisers increasingly shift their budgets away from TV in favor of digital ads.
How using biometrics could help boost response from viewers has been exhibited by the experience of The Ad Council, a New York-based organization that creates ad campaigns for non-profits and government agencies. It has worked with Nielsen Neuroscience to test some of its ads.
Viewers were engaged by watching a mixed-breed dog playing with the screen and reaching out to viewers in testing the ad of The Shelter Pet Project, which promotes the adoption of pets from local animal shelters.
However when the message about contacting Shelterpetproject.org appeared on the screen, the parts of viewers' brains triggering memory weren't firing, said Patty Goldman, research director with Ad Council.
Following this revelation, the Ad Council tweaked the ad to add audio encouraging viewers to visit the site. The Ad Council did have success with the entire campaign which was evident from the average monthly visitors to the Web site which increases to 174,000 from 74,000 within the first three months of the campaign even as they did not known how much the change affected the results of the ad.
Identifying scenes elicit the strongest emotional response from viewers, and then use those scenes in its promotional ads is the primary aim of the project ongoing at the NBCUniversal lab set up in Orlando, Florida, in September, said Wurtzel.
On the other hand the aim of the research into the viewers’ minds by Viacom is to find different kinds of viewer focus and ultimately to find the best time for a commercial. For example, if a scene brings out a response from expectant mothers a diaper ad can be put in or if the scene makes people hungry, a food ad can be run.
However there are concerns about the cost of the projects which run anywhere between $30,000 to $100,000 per study, and there are also apprehensions that this cost may not improve sales.