If you’ve ever watched Frontline on your tablet or Downton Abbey on your television, Public Broadcasting Service wants to hear about it. In order for PBS to remain relevant and competitive, the company uses viewer feedback to inform programming and marketing.
Susan Frazier, who has two decades of market research experience, joined PBS in January 2015 and runs the PBS insight community, Viewers Like You. The community is composed of 18,428 members, who give the broadcaster regular ongoing feedback.
Note: Frazier is guest speaker in our webinar series The big payoff: Realizing the ROI of customer relationships.
“PBS is America’s public broadcaster,” Frazier tells us. “We serve every American household, offering accessible, quality programming throughout the course of viewers lives.” Frazier knows how important listening to customers is for predicting changes in consumer behavior and understanding what viewers want. We sat down with her to learn more.
Tell us a bit about you career so far. What brought you to PBS?
Before joining PBS, I was a market researcher at National Geographic for 17 years, managing insight communities and other research there. Prior to that, I worked for the United States Information Agency for six years, doing public opinion polling internationally, mostly focused on Eastern Europe. Up until that point, my expertise lay in traditional research methods. National Geographic introduced me to insight communities, which helped us surface invaluable customer insight instantly, making our research team that much more efficient and my job easier. When I heard PBS had an insight community with Vision Critical, it worked in my advantage for a seamless career transition. I’ve been the director of custom research at PBS since January 2015.
“Our insight community builds trust and captures information, storing it in perpetuity, so we never have to ask again.”
How have your market research methods evolved?
When leaders at PBS need information on who among our core viewers or other users of our content are most interested in a new program, we have a community of audience members at my fingertips. Our insight community is ready to go whenever we need to make a decision—no screening or lead-time necessary. We’re more productive. For example, it’s human nature not to want to surrender personal information, but if it’s for a brand people trust, they’re more likely to share. Our insight community builds trust and captures information, storing it in perpetuity, so we never have to ask again.
"We trust our community and value the opinions they share. It’s often little changes that help us stay relevant and revitalize old programs or build new."
How does your insight community help PBS navigate the competitive market?
We trust our community and value the opinions they share. It’s often little changes that help us stay relevant and revitalize old programs or build new ones.
The Antiques Roadshow, for example, has been running for 20 years with a dedicated following. After being on air for so long, viewership and ratings were slipping, ever so slightly. We asked a random selection of our community questions such as “do you watch Antiques Roadshow?”, “why or why not?” and “if you watch it less than you used to, why?” Most viewers said they couldn’t tell the difference between re-runs and brand new episodes. From our viewers’ feedback, the producers made some significant changes such as updating the opening graphic, boosting the music, and adding more antique appraisals (something our viewers wanted). Next step is following-up with them to see how those changes affect viewership, public opinion, and ratings.
Does PBS often make programming updates based on community insight?
It’s definitely becoming a trend. As just one example, “Mercy Street,” our American Civil War-themed show, premiered in January 2016. After every episode, we asked some of our community members what they thought of the characters, storyline, and visuals as well as how engaging, historically accurate, interesting, or gory it was. We presented our data and insight to the team, saying this is what people thought of season one. The writers, actors, producers, and executives alike could then use this information to improve the show for season two. We’re working together to create a product and experience that our viewers will engage with across platforms.
Do you gather community insight to inform real-time decisions as well?
Yes. We once had several executives interested in hiring a new host for a PBS series. They wanted to know what our viewers thought of the host from previous shows, so we asked members of our insight community. Within a day, leadership had a one-page report that confirmed that both leadership and viewers were on the same page. Traditional market research never had the ability to offer real-time data to support fast business decisions like that.
What do you think keeps the media and entertainment industry up at night?
One of our biggest challenges is keeping up with social changes such as how and where people want to consume media and what engages different demographics. People are empowered by choice—there’s a world of media and entertainment at their fingertips. Companies in the industry need to meet customers where they already are and learn how to communicate effectively. A big part of that is understanding the changing needs of our audience, across platforms and genres.
"We all need help navigating with certainty, especially during uncertain times."
How has engaging with customers impacted the PBS brand?
We all need help navigating with certainty, especially during uncertain times. I see value in what we do. By creating relationships with our customers, engaging with them and showing we care, we’ve established personal bonds and trust. We trust these people and they trust us. It’s in everyone’s best interest to learn and grow together in order to improve the experience in the future.