[The following is a guest Q&A column presented by CTAM]
Artie Bulgrin is the SVP of Research and Analytics for ESPN. Artie’s background includes work with Nielsen Research and CAP Cities/ABC in National Television Sales.
Where do you think is the most dramatic changes in the industry have occurred in the past five years?
AB: When I started at ESPN thirteen years ago, the focus was purely on cable television and television ratings. I think all of us on that side of the business who were focusing on strengthening audience measurement for cable networks realize that it has evolved. We have created multi-faceted research departments ranging from audience research, which is established, to primary research that measures consumer insights for building brands and understanding consumer behavior.
For many of us, especially at ESPN, we are currently focused on understanding cross-media behavior. Not just television behavior, but how people are using all digital outlets. We are in the audio business. We are in the print business. So it’s not just about TV anymore. It’s about understanding the holistic viewer experience. We call it the ‘Fan Experience.’
Can you share some insights about the “Fan Experience”?
AB: We’ve invested a lot of time and money in the past few years researching sports fan media behavior. It culminated recently in a major study with Sequent Partners and Ball State University, in which we shadowed 50 young male sports fans to help understand how they use the individual media touch points – the role that sports and media play in the context of life itself.
From that we created the seven principles of cross media measurement and behavior. The fundamentals are this: Sports fans consume much more media than the average American, because they have to consume sports in the moment. Very little sports on television is consumed on a time-shifted basis. Virtually all of it is consumed live.
There is this phenomenon of social currency: Big sports fans have to follow the information on a daily basis. So new digital media devices, whether PDA, laptop, or any device that allows access to the Web or Web video, have been embraced by sports fans. These fans can be in contact with sports daily. So they consume a lot of sports, but traditional media has not suffered. Media use is not a zero sum game. Use continues to grow. That’s because these digital technologies create what we call ‘new markets of time.’ We can consume media when and where we could never before.
The other thing we know a lot about is the ’available screen philosophy.’ Television continues to thrive because if a television set is available, it’s certainly the best screen for sports viewing. But if the viewer isn’t near a TV set, he or she will go to a computer or even a mobile device. In fact, mobile devices could be the most prolific and perhaps the most engaging in the next few years.
Is there anything you would like to add?
AB: The one thing I’d like to add is there is a lot of misinformation in the industry that slows us down. When you come to work each day there are communications in email, online or in the news media that are actually ill-informed. What worries me is that major decisions are made based on misinformation. So the industry’s research community as a whole needs to be more responsible as to how we communicate findings. There is a lot of bad research out there. There is a lot of great research out there. We have to be very focused as to how we separate what is mediocre and from what is good.
Researchers, particularly new researchers coming into the industry, have to focus on methodology quality. They need to deeply understand what works and what doesn’t. We have to be very careful of falling into the trap of doing fun things that are qualitative, but not really projectable to anything. We have to understand that the scientific method in research is absolutely necessary before producing results for decision making. It is not about one type of research. There are roles for different types of research, such as ethnography, set top box data, sample based data. It all has to work together. That is why there is a need for trained research professionals to guide the selection of methodologies and do the analysis.
You’re a member of the CTAM Research Committee. Tell us about your involvement.
AB: The CTAM Research committee allows us to get together with smart people, share our work and guide the research initiatives of CTAM. I also co-chaired a CTAM Research conference. It has always been a fabulous conference and one that uniquely covers issues that other conferences don’t touch.
At ESPN, we continue to be avid supporters of CTAM on the research side, because the type of research CTAM does is different from other organizations. It’s specific to our needs. Our roots are still in cable television. We still need to know the needs of our operators and how we can grow our businesses together. We have tough issues, such as set-top box measurement and addressability that need to be understood. There is a focus on these and similar issues with the Committee and that’s very important.