Friendly Consumer Insights
A Q&A with Bruce Friend
By Charlene Weisler
In his 30-year career, Bruce Friend has gone from working at an ad agency to stints at a start-up called HBO, as well as stretches at Telemundo, MTV Networks International, Nickelodeon and Sony Pictures. He was named President of global research firm Ipsos OTX MediaCTin 2010.
You say that the next generation of television sets directly plug from the Internet into the big screen. How do you think this will impact media consumption? Specifically, what are the challenges to broadcasting and cable when viewers can view directly from the Internet?
You know, I have always been a firm believer from my early days at HBO that content is king. So it is still, and always will be, about consumers wanting their content. However, someone has to pay for it and the business models, regardless of how they change, will ultimately have to support that. Does this mean people will have to pay for it in different ways going forward? In some cases, yes — though I don’t think anyone knows exactly yet what that will look like.
What I do believe is that advertising-supported content will continue to thrive, and the broadcast networks and ad-supported cable networks will survive in some shape or form. It is really more a question of how the business model will evolve to support this.
When all is said and done, people want good, high quality content, and they know one way or another that they are going to have to pay for that content. I think the idea of TV or video “everywhere” is important, because people are willing to pay for content once, but then expect to be able to access it on any screen they want. That is important and has to get figured out, because consumers don’t want to pay for the same content multiple times across multiple media platforms. That’s not fair in their eyes, and I think we can all understand that.
How much ethnographic research do you do if any?
We’re doing more and more, especially of the type we call “virtual ethnography” work. That is, getting to the consumer and into the home through the PC and mobile devices, and getting people to become advocates, if you will, for our clients’ brands and give us insights.
We create and monitor panels where we give consumers social networking tools so they can interact with us and provide us with insights and information through words, pictures and video. That has become very popular with our [film studio and TV] clients, even on a longitudinal basis.
People want to be able to connect to their consumers on a daily basis. This allows clients to go in and say “Hey I want to put this one sheet ad up in front of people to get their response, and then get them to chat amongst each other. And, then maybe they can go out and find images that they think might be better.” So we are getting a lot more consumer-generated insights into the process than we ever had before, and are able to use technology to do that. Not having to get in the car or on a plane and having to fly and get into somebody’s home is a big advantage for this type of work, especially when working across international markets. Also, people are a lot more comfortable doing it this way instead of letting a stranger in their homes to observe. So we have been very aggressive in that area.
Where do you see media consumption going in general in the next five years?
I think consumption goes wherever the technology goes. If we’ve learned anything in the last three to five years, it’s just that.
This is where market research gets tricky. From research back in 1997 and 1998, when the Internet was just becoming a mass market medium, everyone said “Why would I watch television on my PC screen when I have a perfectly good television screen to watch it on?” They couldn’t and didn’t see the potential of being able to add more screens in the home and new rooms where there weren’t TVs. They also couldn’t grasp that the quality of the PC video experience would improve over time. Finally, they couldn’t see that wireless mobility would create new occasions for them to consume video that they didn’t have before.
Today, you have TV screens going in cars. You have live full motion video billboards everywhere in LA and now expanding into other markets. I think people will still say to some degree “Well I’m not going to watch a full length movie on my phone.” However, if you’re stuck somewhere for two hours and you’ve got your phone and you can watch a movie and be entertained, you will do it. So it is a function of the occasion and the situation.
Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked the people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.” You have to be careful with market research in asking people what they want, since most people don’t have the vision to know what they want until they have the chance to actually experience it. This is why I believe that research companies that can effectively integrate attitudinal and behavioral data to tell the complete consumer story will be the companies that succeed in the future. It is no longer enough to just look at one or the other in isolation to fully understand today’s consumer.
(Interview conducted by Charlene Weisler, a research veteran, member of the Set Top Box Collaborative executive committee, the CTAM Research and Research Planning Committees and a CIMM consultant. She can be reached at WeislerMedia@yahoo.com. In addition to the above segment, there are five video segments in which Bruce talks more about these and other topics at weislermedia.blogspot.com).