[The following guest column is presented by CTAM]

Brad Dancer is SVP, Research & Digital Media at the National Geographic Channel. He’s one of the original employees at NGC and has served on the CTAM Research and Research conference committees for many years.

I remember how quickly the change from program live ratings to C3 went a couple of years ago, although it feels like it was a generation ago. I also remember that as soon as I heard the words ”commercial minute measurement” mentioned in the trades that it would require a significant shift in thinking at the National Geographic Channel in order to continue to meet the needs of all of partners. What division is better equipped to handle this sort of transition other than research? None, of course, as we all know research is the lifeblood of this industry (we all know that, right?). Research’s role as an advisor to all departments became an essential piece of understanding this new paradigm.
For so many years programmers and marketers have focused on building viewership and that has generally been done by building program live ratings, although we were never that specific. We all sweat over detailed ratings information every day, looking at length of tune, time spent viewing, minute by minute, cume, frequency, shares, huts/puts – of course 95% of that hasn’t changed. Yet everything has changed about the way we think about our performance.
While its still important to focus on the program ratings, we have to understand all the content within a show, including the commercial breaks and what’s in those commercial breaks. Obvious? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean its easy for everyone to change gears after years of working one way. I’ve been working in research for long enough to remember the days when we had two systems running ratings, and we stood crouched over a printer as they came out of the system. While the technology has developed and measurement systems have improved, the way we look and think about the Nielsen data has been pretty consistent over the years. That all changed with C3. The measurement tools are still basically the same, but it requires different strategies. Research departments at content providers needed to equip their respective teams with new ways of thinking about the content they were producing.
Here at the National Geographic Channel, the research team embarked early on to address the shift from live viewing to C3 data. We broke this out into three stages (worst kept secret — people think well in three’s).
            Step 1: Education. Define the C3 metric, get everyone at the channel able to understand what it is and how it is measured. From program schedulers to digital marketers, everyone should understand the difference between program live rating and C3. Everything starts with understanding the basics.
            Step 2: Integration. We didn’t immediately change the metrics at the channel, but introduced new metrics that everyone could understand. An index of C3 to program live ratings was a key addition to the vocabulary of NGC staff early on. It made the research staff at NGC proud that staff could recite our C3 index with the same comfort level of our prime time P25-54 ratings. With the knowledge of what is being measured and what results are needed, the staff was ready for the last stage.
            Step 3: Attack.  Now its time to put the knowledge gained to work. What can we do to grow the C3 metrics, what research analysis or studies are needed to understand the marketplace? How can we, as a channel, define the viewing experience now? Everyone from marketing to programming to communications and on are tasked with thinking about what commercial minute measurement means and what we could do to improve it.
We continue to use all available sources we can find: Nielsen data, CTAM studies, primary biometric studies, custom Nielsen analysis, syndicated research, social trends, you name it. Research is the foundation for understanding what we need to do; no one source will give us all the answers we need. We need testing, experimentation, willingness to fail and open minds across the network. Research’s role in this process is vital.
We’re proud of our accomplishments here. Our C3 impressions are growing at a faster rate than our already fast growing live program impressions. Staff talks about C3 ratings, impressions and indices as if they have been talking about them for years. Research’s role across networks is not just to report ratings or estimate future performance, but to educate and prepare the staff it serves for what’s next. Research is taking the data we see every day and thinking about what might happen and how it affects our business. We hope that groups like CTAM continue to help forge ahead new thinking and methodologies in research as the industry continues its fast-paced evolution.
(Brad can be contacted at bdancer@natgeochannel.com).

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