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Focus Groups - Helped or Hurt or both


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That comment in the other thread prompted this question(the one about Tom Cudahy on AMC)

I know people like to point at focus groups at being completely destructive but focus groups is a marketing tool many businesses today continue to use so with that:

How did focus groups help and how did they hurt soaps?

I can't answer this intelligently. I have read numerous interviews from people within the soap community and their perspective and their feelings that they were primarily used to enforce a decision those in charge wanted anyway and when they didn't they were tossed aside. I don't even know if this is entirely an accurate stmt. I also don't really quite understand the different aspects of the shows they were used to assess.

Any thoughts, insight, etc. and was there ANY value in them

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I think for the most part they've hurt. I remember reading Ryan & Greenlee do well in focus groups. Are these people who watch alot or just a casual viewer? I mean didn't focus groups say that they hated Kevin Buchanan-The Dan Gauthier version, yet he was a hugely popular character in general

So it often makes me wonder who these people are in focus groups, and to me you can't gauge reaction just by focus groups alone. I never understood why networks(ABC especially) lived & breathed them.

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Apparently Tom Cudahy did lousy in focus groups and was considered boring and AMC fought tooth and nail for him.

As for the focus groups, I just wonder if there is any way they did or could have provided some value? I do think there is some value in getting feedback from people who don't watch the show because many viewers already have preconceived opinions based on who their faves on the show are. I am just not exactly sure how. ANd that has absolutely nothing to do with how they have been used over the years.

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I don't think watching a few hours or an episode of a soap is enough for a good judgment.

I also think that these focus groups are very easily manipulated the way the producer wants - it's very convenient that all JFP focus groups led to the deaths of the types of characters she's always disliked.

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I think for the most part they've hurt. I remember reading Ryan & Greenlee do well in focus groups. Are these people who watch alot or just a casual viewer?

The point of a focus group is to target viewers of a certain demographic so that they can see what those viewers in that group typically find appealing and then in theory you could work the positives of what they found during their sample research into the show to increase viewers of your desired demo. I would imagine if soaps were looking for a certain demographic they were looking for ones that did not actively watch so that they could get those viewers watching more then they were. Daytime television's audience dwindled down to nothing over the past two decades. Focus groups were used as a way to get viewers of a specific age range back so soaps could make more money.

As to if they hurt soaps or not I would say it depends. I personally find the networks lust for a certain demographic more hurtful then their focus groups persay. Like it's been said you can manipulate a focus group a certain way so that it tells you one thing. Had they asked older audiences what they liked I am sure older veteran characters would have fared a bit better in the groups analysis. But soaps weren't interested in those viewers because they already had them. So we got groups of young audiences likely in neighborhoods which make a decent amount of money and of course those groups of younger people were probably interested in seeing fit, young actors in designer clothing. My guess is that most of the networks focus groups tended to be young teens and people in their twenties and they based their findings on that. It seems that soaps only cared about a persons input if they are a young person in their late teens to late thirties and if you didn't fall into that age range then to hell with you. They were far more interested in getting the 18-39's input then listening to the bulk of the viewers who tended to watch these shows which were viewers in their 40's and beyond.

The problem with this is that these viewers are more interested in primetime 8/9 clock shows like Glee, True Blood, Gossip Girl and Dexter rather then likely to stay home at 1-3 in the afternoon to watch soaps.

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Which character did JFP kill off with the focus group claim?

AS for the networks or soaps obsessions with demos, thats driven by advertisers. Its Madison Avenue who sets that standard and since in general people 18-49 are allegedly harder to capture, they demand the most money. They don't pay a premium for people over that age because they are easier to target. At least thats the thought. I think ESPN actually demands the highest ad rates because they have a very high 18-34 male audience who are allegedly the hardest group to find. I know there is a whole history about how because ABC was number 3 for so many years, and how they played a part in helping sway that target group because they at the time as a network had a higher percentage of younger viewers while trailing in total viewers. THat said I don't think its a soap thing its TV in general.

Back on topic.

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Which character did JFP kill off with the focus group claim?

Which character didn't she kill off because of focus groups? LOL!

Namely Maureen on GL (which she later apologized for) and Frankie on AW.

It was almost Donna or Paulina that got killed instead of Frankie, but there was negative fan reaction to this when the set up was for Donna to get killed. Focus groups were neutral when it came to Frankie, so JFP and Maggie DePriest killed her off instead.

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Absolutely, focus groups hurt. Soaps were at their best when there were none, and talented writers guided their shows with a firm, almost autocratic hand, like Irna Phillips did. Not to say she didn't make mistakes, but she had a singular vision, as did Bill Bell and Agnes Nixon. The worst mistake networks made, beside relying too heavily on focus groups, was diminishing the head writer's role in favor of the EP. Case in point: both GL and ATWT, especially during their final years.

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I don't think focus groups themselves are bad actually I think the problem is that soaps were vying for a younger demographic and in their desire for luring younger viewers they further ostracized their older audiences who were the background for these shows. I think for the most part Y&R did it right for so many years and that's why it was #1. They didn't feel the need to cater desperately to younger viewers who simply weren't there to watch or support soaps anyway.

I do think the focus groups did what soaps wanted them to do though. They received information on what stars made them tune in and which stars made them tune out and what was interesting to non-viewers and what wasn't. The mistake was and always will be that these viewers were not attached to these shows and thus they wouldn't watch continuously anyway.

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I think focus groups are good for certain situations, but not for daytime soaps. Showing someone a television commercial or a movie and finding out what is good or bad about it is different than a show that continues for years. Also some of the most "beloved" people aren't flashy so of course they won't rate in a focus group for example Days' Alice or someone else of that nature. Even asking fans who go to fan events and using them as a focus group isn't effective as really they are not the "average" viewer either.

Did anyone else watch that VH1 show where they had the former sex symbol guys on it trying to make a go after falling off the map? The focus group episode was fascinating, as they showed the people as they were at the time the show was made, and got opinions.

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I think they hurt. For Primtime they can be useful because you are only making 13-24 episodes a year. So its easy to gather your target demo, show them an episode or two & use feedback on future episodes, soaps I don't think you can. If character A on this soap, who is normally considered popular, is shown doing X (which is bad, negative, etc) in a focus group, they test bad, because focus groups don't know that 6 months ago, Y happened to character A which explains why they're now doing X. A regular view would know that, a focus grouper probably wouldn't.

Having said that, I'm not sure if there is a better way to get feedback either. One of Doug Marland's rules was read all the mail & listen to all teh comments on the comment line, 20-30 years ago that probably worked well, today with all the Fanbases, a comment line can easily be spammed, I'm not sure it's as effective. And from my experience working in a congressional office, people only call, write when they are unhappy & have something to complaint about, they don't when they are happy and IMO postive feedback is just as important as negative feedback. Same for boards/forums.

One thing that could have helped is maybe the mags, they could criticize more than they do. Primetime critics/entertainment mags seem to not be affraid to criticize primtime shows when they get awful, if soaps mags had done the same thing that could have been some valueable feedback. SOD will do a "Plan to save Days" cover story, but where was the "DAYS SUCKS" cover story when Dena was writing? Richard Simms of SID will criticize Y&R on the SID twitter account every now and then, but has there been an SID cover story about how awful Y&R has been? I doubt it.

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