Turner Research head takes shots at Forrester, Nielsen and gurus

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January 25th, 2009

From AdvertisingAge comes a 3 minute video featuring Turner Broadcasting research chief Jack Wakshlag taking shots at Forrester Research and Nielsen. Just in case you can't access the AdAge video, here's some of what he had to say about the Nielsen data:

I don't think most of us actually know how to analyze Nielsen data properly. We look at it as here are the ratings and here are the shares and we get a reach and frequency sometimes. Ok. But we don't understand people's viewing patterns. Do people really watch television by resorting to program types? What proportion of television time is spent with shows people hate to miss? The ones they really care about? We have a sample of 14,000 people who are wired in pressing their buttons -- good or bad. We haven't even scratched the surface of Nielsen television viewing behavioral data to understand the viewing clusters, clusters by type, viewing age demographics, sequences of viewing.[...]"

Wow. If some guy who is getting paid in the six figures to head up research for a network doesn't understand it,what possible hope do we have? He seemed to indicate (at least the way the video was edited) that it's not easy to calculate something like what percentage of people who watched American Idol today will watch it tomorrow. If so, that surprises me.

Obviously Mr. Wakshlag has access to much more data than we do, but if he's being honest, perhaps he was being too honest. If Nielsen truly has an issue with what it measures and how useful it is, I'm completely fine with griping about that, and being specific about what needs to be changed.

But if you're the head of research for a network and your griping about not having any idea what the data means, that seems like it's not a good space to be in, even if it's completely true. Television is all about marketing, and this seems like a bit of a marketing problem to me. I've heard the heads of research at NBC and CBS speak up before, and it didn't sound anything like this.

This way is of course much more fun for us, but I'm not sure if that's better for Turner.

Update 1/26/09 11:10 PST:  the following comes from commenter "Mikey" whose opinions I trust and value.  He has a lot of context on Mr. Wakshlag's comments that sadly, Advertising Age did not provide.  They add a good deal of insight to the above comments:

Awesome comments. I know Jack and he is a crank in the best possible way.

Listen to his comments again. He’s not ripping Nielsen. He’s saying that as an industry we don’t do a good job of analyzing the data Nielsen provides us, and he is 100 percent right.

His comments about Forrester are right on. That company is a farce. Jack is referring to a notorious NY Times article in which Forrester proudly forecast the end of network television. That was ten years ago. Here’s the article.

I think what Jack is trying to say is that there’s a lot of agenda-driven garbage analysis out there that hypes new technologies and how they will affect television. This analysis has caused media companies to piss away many millions of dollars on hypotheses that have not remotely come to fruition, yet as a business we continue to give a platform to these gurus and forecasters that have been spectacularly wrong time and again.

Jack is totally right to say these emperors have no clothes. I wouldn’t want to work for the guy because he’s a pain in the ass, but good job by him.

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