Researchers Eye Their Place in the Sun

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Rollouts of digital channels and cable modems, as well as
opportunities presented by the Internet, are expected to be the hot topics at CTAM's
1998 Research Conference, which opens today (Feb. 2) at the Marriott Rivercenter in San
Antonio and runs through Wednesday.

In fact, the conference's first general session, on
Tuesday, will be devoted to exploring the role of research in the rollouts, and speakers
will include Pete Gatseos, planning co-chair of the conference and vice-president of
strategic research at Tele-Communications Inc.'s TCI Communications Inc. unit.

'These are new areas for cable,' Gatseos said.
'We're going to try to make sure that we employ the most effective research that
we can to enhance the business and to produce results.'

Bruce Friend, the conference's other planning co-chair
and vice president of worldwide research and planning for Nickelodeon, said the interest
in new revenue sources, as well as in topics like local cable ratings, reflected the
'pragmatic' slant of the conference, the official theme of which is,
'Profiting from Research Today.'

But the differences between cable operators and cable
programmers will also be on display at the conference, most dramatically at Tuesday
morning's keynote address by Lee Masters, president and CEO of E! Entertainment
Television, titled, 'Research That Pisses Me Off!'

'What really pisses me off,' Masters said,
'is poorly done research that ends up being implemented.'

Specifically, Masters cited attitudinal research conducted
by operators to help them decide which new channels to put on local systems.

'I'm not against attitudinal research,'
Masters explained, 'but [when used for selecting new channels], it only measures one
thing: how people think about you and feel about you, and the answers are not honest. It
doesn't measure behavior: what people actually watch.'

Masters went on to defend the Nielsen Media Research
ratings, which he called a 'relatively stable' source of behavioral research and
'not as horrible as many people like to think.'

But Gatseos said operators have 'different goals'
in researching shows than programmers do. While programmers scrutinize the Nielsen ratings
for every program in great detail, he continued, cable operators are more concerned with
'the overall appeal and quality of each network.'

Analyzing Nielsen ratings, he said, 'was not a big
part of my job.'

Audience measurement, of course, remains a major topic of
concern for researchers. Most seemed resigned to continue living with Nielsen's
domination of the field, but they are carefully watching a trial in Jacksonville, Fla.,
where a measurement company called AdCom is monitoring cable subscribers in
MediaOne's local system.

Another measurement issue facing researchers is how to
accurately gauge usage of the Internet.

'There's a lot of confusion right now,' said
Betsy Frank, executive vice president of research and development for MTV Networks.
'There isn't a Nielsen for the Web, and we really need someone who can provide
information for both content and ad sales.'

Frank also termed the issue of whether Web sites are
ultimately threats to networks or useful allies 'an absolutely critical issue in
coming years.'

'It is a huge issue,' agreed Masters,
'especially with networks appealing to younger demographics. How strongly do you
promote a Web site? Do you risk losing viewers -- and advertising revenue?'

Using the Internet for research methodology in the form of
online feedback from viewers is another issue expected to be hotly debated by researchers
in San Antonio.

Friend said Nickelodeon has been a 'pioneer' in
using online research. He praised it as a good way to both understand a core TV viewing
audience and to get a measurement of interest in a network's ancillary Web sites.

While saying that online research is 'cost-effective,
fast and efficient,' Friend also cautioned that it provides a 'self-selecting
sample,' and that it should be used as an 'enhancement' for other
methodologies, and not as a research 'be all and end all.'

The first day of the research conference will be devoted to
tutorials, including an advanced course in audience measurement, taught by Frank and
Marshall Cohen, president of Marshall Cohen Associates; and 'Good Research on a
Shoestring Budget,' taught by Friend.

On Tuesday afternoon, Pam Burton, director of marketing and
programming for Prime Cable, will moderate 'Challenges for New Network
Launches,' and Tim Brooks, senior vice president of USA Networks, will moderate a
session on local cable ratings.

On Wednesday morning, Barbara Gural, vice president of
research for CTAM, will moderate a session called, 'Why Consumers Switch,' which
will draw on findings from a comprehensive study that the marketing organization conducted
on 'consumer decision-making in a competitive environment.' The study will be
sold for $5,500.

On Friday, Wall Street analysts Richard Bilotti from Morgan
Stanley and Tom Wolzien from Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. will discuss how they use
research to identify opportunities. The conference closes with a session on
'whole-house' penetration moderated by Tom Meredith, director of research for
Disney Channel.