Measuring TV Program Engagement


One of the problems with measuring the viewership of television programming is that counting viewers doesn’t give advertisers or programmers any information about how engaged the viewers are with the content. Two Australian firms, PBL Media’s Nine Network and Neuro-Insight, have launched an effort dubbed PEP – program engagement power – to rectify that.

Engagement means different things to different marketers, but Neuro-Insight defines the term as, “the sense of personal relevance and involvement that an individual feels in response to a portrayed situation. High engagement is associated with increased brain activity in a number of regions including the prefrontal and orbito-frontal cortex.”

Neuro-Insight uses EEG technology, which measures brain activity with a headset and allows relatively comfortable viewing of programs, marketing materials, etc. They note that “no gel, head-shaving or metal electrodes.” Lack of head-shaving no doubt expands the potential base of subjects. The headsets do use a few “small felt sensors, soaked in a saline solution,” though.

One of the results of the initial PEP work was the finding that a show with a modest audience share, Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, scored very well for viewer engagement. Another show, targeted at a female audience, was found to have higher engagement levels with male viewers. The full article by Neil Shoebridge of The Australian Financial Review is here (subscription required).

What does engagement mean for programmers and advertisers? Programmers might well take high engagement levels as encouragement that viewers are responding and may exhibit higher loyalty to the show. Will higher engagement with the content mean better results for advertisers? That’s hard to say, although Neuro-Insight no doubt has the answer: measure engagment levels with the commercials, too.

  1. Samuel Bradley says

    Roger — I’m a brain guy, so I usually like brain toys.

    But did they offer any evidence that this gives us any new information. I strongly suspect that engagement it one of the things that conscious introspection would do a pretty good job with.

    I expect that these data would correlate quite highly with dial-turn continuous response measurement, which would cost FAR less.

    Is this just a way to dazzle clients?

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Samuel, I don’t have more details. Currently, a lot of neuromarketing studies assume a correlation between measured brain activity in a specific area and the goal they are striving for.

    Studies that close the loop – i.e., match actual consumer behavior to the measured brain activity – are hard to find.


  3. Steve Weaver says

    Samuel- I’m the designer of the study.

    You raise a good point, and we initially hypothesised that we might find this correlation as well. In fact, we found the opposite.

    We tested the Neuro results against a more common approach used in Australia that identifies engagement. The data did not align.

    The next study that we are now planning goes to Roger’s point where we will look at the brand saliency movement achieved in highly engaging programs versus less engaging programs.

    Neuro Insight, the company that ran the study for us also has a recently published case study that shows the connection between consumer behaviour and brain activity


  4. Richard Silberstein says

    Roger, I’m the CEO of Neuro-Insight, the neuromarketing company that conducted some 1900 of the SST subject recordings in Germany, US, Japan and China described in Martin Lindstrom’s book, buy-ology
    Your point that ‘studies that close the loop are hard to find’ is well taken although a recent edition of the International Journal of Advertising (Silberstein, R.B., and Nield, G. N. Brain activity correlates of consumer brand choice shift associated with television advertising, Int. J. Advertising 2008: 27: 359-380, attached), describes a study linking brain activity during advertising and a subsequent change in consumer brand preference that is confirmed by a change in consumer brand choice some 30 min later. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first peer reviewed study that demonstrates the link between brain activity indices of long-term memory encoding of brand information in an advertisement and changes in consumer brand choice well after viewing the advertisement.

    We also have a number of commercial studies where the advertiser has modified a finished TV advertisement in the light of our findings to significantly enhance its effectiveness. In one study conducted in Australia for a global food manufacturer, a frozen fish TV advertising campaign launched in 2005 was researched by Neuro-Insight and subsequently modified in accordance with our findings. The original advertisement ran for a 4 week period in 2005 and the modified advertisement ran for a 2 week period in 2006. What was striking was that the small changes led to a dramatic improvement in brand linkage from 8% in 2005 to 44% in 2006. Importantly, the brand linkage was assessed by an independent market research company using traditional quantitative techniques. Furthermore, while the relationship between traditional market research indicators of advertising effectiveness such as brand linkage and market performance is complex and multi-factorial, it was interesting to note that the market share for the advertised product increased by 14% in 2006 compared with 2005 while the media spend was reduced by 50% (2 weeks in 2006 vs 4 weeks in 2005). These findings were reported in the recent Neuroconnections Conference in Cracow earlier this month.

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