[The following is a guest Q&A column presented by CTAM]

Daniel Fischer, president of the Solve It Group, has a background including Discovery Networks on the programming side, Nielsen Research on the vendor side and Time Warner Cable on the MSO side. He is currently working on approaches to increase commercial and program ratings through applied cognitive neuroscience, and is also the research consultant for kids programmer, qubo Ventures.

In the span of your career, what would you say has been the most dramatic change in the media landscape?
DF: I know we’re going to talk about today’s buzz: the use of online and its effect on media. But over the past thirty years, I think the most major change occurred as cable was distributed across the nation. For the first time, consumers had much more choice: 30, 40, 60 and eventually 500 channels. This changed people’s viewing behavior in a radical way. Broadcast networks lost at least 50% of their share, and numerous new brand names were born like MTV, CNN, Discovery and the like. To date, that was a much more profound change than any effect online has had on video consumption.
You have done significant research in the behavior of the commercial pod. Can you share any of your findings with us?
DF: I started Solve It Group in 2005 about the time Nielsen changed the resolution of ratings from quarter hour to minute-by-minute. I think we all knew that a portion of viewers were shifting during the commercial pod. But the minute-by-minute ratings proved that it was occurring and gave us layers of ways to understand it – whether we were looking at different demos, dayparts, program genres – anyway you could cut the data. So very quickly we learned that most drop-off occurs immediately in the first minute, some more in the second minute and then the pod tends to level out with the audience slowly returning. Also, there is a fair amount of variation [according to] demographics, dayparts and program types. These affect the level of drop-off. So my clients were people who gained this understanding for their networks and competitors.
Any general words of advice to networks that want to raise the base of their commercial pod ratings?
DF: Well, certainly all networks have been very active in testing different strategies. I think it has been supremely difficult for networks to migrate any of these ideas across all of their pods. Roughly speaking, a 24-hour network has about 30,000 pods per year, which are servicing approximately 120,000 commercials, perhaps 20,000 promos. That’s huge volume on just one network.
This led me to some work that is showing some very interesting promise. We began to research on the science side, coming up to speed on recent advances in cognitive neuroscience. Tremendous advances have occurred in the last few years. We were interested in linking the world of science to a needed business application: increasing retention and improving programs during certain key moments.
Over the last 18 months, we’ve gained a very good understanding of “engagement”. For our work, engagement and attention are optimized by applying an understanding for how the brain processes audio-visual streams. We have been fortunate to develop and test these ideas with a number of major media companies, and the results are quite promising.
Tell me about your work with CTAM.
DF: I’m on the CTAM Research committee and volunteer my time on a number of interesting studies. CTAM is in a position to do very large, comprehensive research studies and make them available at reasonable prices to their members – a consortium of programmers and MSOs. We’re just completing a four-part study, A Deep Dive Into the Three Screen Experience, looking at video usage on television, online and on mobile devices. This is groundbreaking stuff.
One of my favorite smaller studies looked at Apple TV. As that platform began to be sold, we were curious about its impact on the TV experience, and of course that discussion involved online usage as well. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to work on an On Demand study, which was also quite comprehensive and gave great insights to the industry. So I greatly encourage all companies to take advantage of this research. It is an economical way to gain knowledge on the largest, most important issues that the industry faces.

(Interview conducted by Charlene Weisler, chair of the CTAM Research Committee and research veteran. She can be reached at CharleneWeisler@yahoo.com.
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A video of the full interview with Daniel is also available for viewing here. Daniel Fischer is available at Daniel@SolveItGroup.com or 240-676-2424).

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