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Does Media really need another awards ceremony?

04 Feb 2015  |  Richard Marks 
Does Media really need another awards ceremony?

Richard Marks, chair of the judges for next week's Media Research Awards, says the entries tell us a lot about the state of the sector - and that the awards themselves matter to the future success of the industry.

"Your wife still doing that job where they ask people shit all day?"

"Market research? Yeah."

-- 'The Driver', BBC1

Such is the voracious demand for information on the latest episodes of the major TV shows nowadays that news outlets now publish two reviews of the same show - the first posted after the press screening and labelled as 'Spoiler Free', the second after broadcast reflecting on plot points.

Well, as chairman of the judges for the Mediatel Media Research Awards, I have on my desktop a list of the winners that will be revealed at a gala lunch in the City next Wednesday (11 February).

So here's a (mostly) 'spoiler free' preview.

What do 76 entries tell us about the current state of UK Media Research? Well, we can take the obvious quantitative approach and look at the resulting shortlist and conduct some basic cluster analysis.

Across the shortlist, 13 entries feature media owners, five feature media agencies and four involve industry bodies. Meanwhile five shortlisted entries originate from smaller or boutique research agencies, and four from the larger agencies. Clearly a big driver of media research is the need for media owners - backed up by industry bodies like Thinkbox, Newsworks, and RAB - to conduct innovative research that demonstrates the power of their brand or medium. Over half of the shortlist falls into this category.

What's quite revealing about the current state of media research is how few of the entries used just one research approach or technique."

What's quite revealing about the current state of media research is how few of the entries used just one research approach or technique. Furthermore, hardly any of the entries featured in-home - or even face-to-face - interviewing. The default for quantitative ad hoc now seems to be online samples.

Media research nowadays focuses on direct contact only when it is entirely necessary: for the industry trading currencies, or if the approach absolutely requires face-to-face - ethnographics, eye-tracking, neuroscience or other qual techniques.

The other major shift compared to a decade ago is how many of the entries feature hybrid approaches, combining desk research, qual and quant and big data to build insights as opposed to the straightforward single source surveys I used to be involved in when active in custom research.

I'm happy to reveal that the judging was a pleasure to chair - obviously we didn't agree on everything, but no one stormed out. The only harsh words were directed at public transport on the day and consensus was reached on all the categories and the overall Grand Prix winner.

Indeed, some of our conversations developed into a discussion on the future of media research that we have been asked to continue - appropriately enough - on a panel at the Future of Media Research in March.

So here we are slap-bang in the middle of the awards season - the NTAs and Golden Globes are behind us and the BAFTAs, Brits and Oscars lie ahead. Isn't there a danger of awards fatigue? Do the Media Research Awards really matter?

Thankfully there does seem to be a strong demand for an event like this. Remember this is the first time that this awards process has been conducted. We did have some concerns that it might take some time to gain momentum from a standing start. In the event we were so snowed under with entries that we had to delay the judges' meeting by two weeks just to give us time to read them all.

The opportunity to help promote the media research industry as a whole was certainly my main motivation for getting involved. Next week we will see how successfully we can help follow through on that objective.

The MRG does run a successful awards ceremony linked to its bi-annual conference. However, that event takes place abroad, is every two years and limited to attendees at that conference itself. So we felt there was a need for something that complemented rather than competed with this, but was UK-based, more frequent and could make a major splash to promote the strength of UK Media Research, just as the Brits promote British music talent around the world and the BAFTAs showcase British TV as a whole.

A vibrant media industry needs to be able to attract the brightest minds to work on the media research that underpins it."

A former boss of mine used to talk about our 'CPT' rating. This was the Cocktail Part Test: he wanted what we did to be so interesting that if we were at a cocktail party and someone asked what we did, we could explain in such a way that the response would be "Wow, that sounds interesting, I wish I could do that."

In reality most of the time when I explain what I do to people outside the industry (or even inside it sometimes) they just look blankly at me and change the subject. Indeed, fully a decade into my career, my parents had to sit me down and reveal their shocking secret - they had not got a clue what I did and had been nodding along none the wiser. The only hope of prolonging any conversation with the 'not we' is if I throw in the words 'TV ratings'.

Hopefully the awards next week will be a small step forward to helping us pass that Cocktail Party Test.

We'll be celebrating the winners, but more importantly, the event will be a celebration of the best in media research, showcasing outstanding projects but also demonstrating that media research is future-friendly, not just about 'asking people shit' but drawing on data from a wide variety of sources to understand what people watch, read, listen to and buy.

Make no mistake, as I've discussed in past columns, media research is under threat - under threat from those who think Big Data removes the need for carefully balanced samples, from those prioritising cost over quality. It's at risk of a potential brain drain. In a data driven economy everyone wants the best statisticians, modellers and gurus.

A vibrant media industry needs to be able to attract the brightest minds to work on the media research that underpins it and events like this will help to attract and retain talent. It will also amplify the continued relevance and importance of media research.

We may not pass the Cocktail Party Test immediately, but MediaTel assures me that cocktails will be involved in the process.

Just one problem remains - what do we call the trophies themselves? What is the media research equivalent of an Oscar, a Tony or a Brit? Let us know your suggestions via @MediatelNews, but nothing post-watershed please!

To find out more about the MediaTel Media Research Awards, please visit the events website.

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