All in the family

Editor's note: Laura Livers is president of Philadelphia research firm Focus Pointe Global.

Every month, more than 25 million subscribers tune in to GSN (formerly Game Show Network) for original and classic game programming. A leader in multimedia entertainment, GSN offers cross-platform content via television shows, free online games and its WorldWinner competitive cash tournaments throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Canada.

As GSN continues to expand its repertoire of shows and games, it conducts market analyses on new programs. When the network first developed the concept for The American Bible Challenge, a Bible-themed game show, GSN ran three in-facility research studies to determine the show’s potential audience. Using a full-spectrum sample of the Christian television-viewing public, GSN wanted to explore the demographics and the interests of The American Bible Challenge audience, with a focus on the aspects of the show they appreciated most.

The network’s greatest takeaway from its research was that viewers were, more than anything else, responding to the family-oriented nature of the show. Soon after, GSN began working on the launch of Family Trade, a reality show that explores the unique bartering business of a family-owned Vermont car dealership. Because the two programs share a strong focus on families, GSN wanted to examine whether its new show would appeal to the sensibilities of the established hit’s audience. “What we were trying to find out was: Would these shows complement each other and how well? Did it make sense to launch them back-to-back? Did it make sense to launch one and then the other after it? We were trying to find a strategy on scheduling,” says Michael Michell, vice president, research, at GSN.

‘Get a false read’

Not only did GSN want to know more about the audience crossover between its two shows, but as a national network, it also wanted to hear from a sample that was representative of the United States as a whole. “Sometimes when you focus too specifically on a city or state, you can get a false read,” Michell says. “The national sample base gives me the ability to make sure we don’t have a program that is more regionally-focused.”

To reach these goals, GSN and its research partner, Philadelphia-based Focus Pointe Global (FPG), decided to enhance the network’s typical facility-based pilot testing by conducting additional research online using FPG’s qualitative panel.

Though it’s still an evolving methodology, online research can have strategic advantages over more traditional studies and those advantages have led to a shift in the nature of marketing research. Online research can be far quicker and more cost-effective and it allows researchers to gain access to a national audience all at once rather than forcing them to conduct studies in one city at a time. Since panelists in today’s world are almost constantly connected to the Internet via smartphone, tablet or computer, online studies make it possible to meet panelists wherever they are – making it easier to recruit willing, authentic participants who fit study criteria.

Panels like the one used in this study are built through qualitative recruiting – that is, inviting people to join, typically via a Web site, online advertisement, social media outreach, phone call or flyer. Prospective panelists complete full demographic profiles, giving the panel provider and researchers deep insights into their habits before they ever participate in a study. Panelists can be drawn from this pool for both qualitative and quantitative research studies. With a large group of panelists and a wealth of preexisting information to draw on, researchers can utilize high-quality panels that provide accurate, detailed results.

Just the right audience

For GSN’s study, study invitations were specifically targeted based on panelist-defined demographic criteria, allowing researchers to home in on just the right audience for their products and services – in this case, Christian game-show viewers.

These panelists provided a variety of additional benefits to this particular research: Having already participated in qualitative studies, they were used to committing significant time to face-to-face focus groups so they didn’t experience research fatigue as quickly and were more willing to commit their attention to longer-form online studies. Their prior experience also helped them have a better idea of the level of informative detail that researchers crave in their responses. Finally, with this approach, the researcher gains access to “exhaust data” or information entered by the panelist during the prequalification screener, allowing for an array of demographic sorting options.

This qualitative online research methodology made it possible for GSN and Focus Pointe to revisit panelists who were screened for and participated in the original study for The American Bible Challenge, rather than starting from scratch. “When we did the initial research, we didn’t know that there would be a second part,” says Ileen Branderbit, executive vice president of Focus Pointe Global. “But because those individuals became panelists, we were able to go back to them and further delve into how they felt about both shows.”

Prior to the start of the study, a prequalification screener that gauged television viewing habits was e-mailed to each panelist who took the original screener for The American Bible Challenge. After choosing a qualified group of panelists, Focus Pointe e-mailed them an online survey that consisted of an embedded version of the Family Trade pilot, followed by post-viewing questions. Because watching the pilot was a crucial part of the online survey, GSN used a methodology that wouldn’t allow panelists to fast-forward through the video.

Gained valuable information

The project engaged more than 1,000 panelists and was completed, from start to finish, in just one week during the busiest season of the year – the fourth quarter. GSN gained valuable information from the study that has contributed to formulating the network’s strategy. “We found that there definitely was a crossover for these two audiences. The American Bible Challenge audience appreciated the family aspect of Family Trade,” Michell says. “We liked the crossover, so we decided to launch Family Trade first and then The American Bible Challenge would come in with about three weeks of Family Trade left so that we could cross-promote between the two.”

After the study was complete, GSN and Focus Pointe worked together to create crosstabulations using the data collected. This robust collection of interrelated data points allowed GSN to conduct its own detailed analysis of the results. “We used enough of a sample that I was able to do a lot of deeper dives so I could look further into a specific demographic and psychographic data to get a better understanding about that individual or type,” Michell says. “The advantage you get by going online is scale. With that scale, it allows me to dissect the numbers more finely.”

Remain open

As online research becomes more prevalent, it’s important that researchers remain open to experimenting with new options made available through technology. Though GSN traditionally conducts in-facility research, this online study gave the network an opportunity to try mixed-mode research and the new avenue has proven fruitful. “I like the qualitative and quantitative nature of this type of research,” Michell says. “I like to use as many tools as I can, because my goal is to always have success with every program.”

Indeed, GSN’s new shows have met with great success – the second season of The American Bible Challenge, the highest-rated original series in the network’s history, premiered March 21, nine days after the series premier of Family Trade – labeled a “game-changer” by the Los Angeles Times – which premiered with above-average ratings March 12 in the prime 8 p.m. time slot. “The [qualitative] research beforehand gives you an advantage. I’ll use the analogy of a baseball player: The more they practice, the better they get,” Michell says. “The more we educate ourselves about our programs, viewers and the things we’re trying to do, the better chance of success we have with our programs.”