HRTS Member Profile: Irene Gustaitis
Irene Gustaitis is VP/GM, U.S. Television Research & Analytics at SPE. I recently had a chance to interview Irene to discuss Nielsen, the human brain and balancing art with science.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment?
-I studied literature and science at UCLA and have always been fascinated with the discovery process - asking ‘why’ and making sense of different viewpoints through narrative. I’ve always felt that market research is a very democratic profession. My job is to organize the votes, to interpret the results and to work with decision makers on a plan. There is so much that makes for a story well told and balancing art with science is what made me want to continue to work in entertainment research. I’ve worked on hundreds of pilots and program tests across broadcast and cable networks and have seen first-hand how tapping into viewer insight can help inform the creative process.
Q: How did you first get involved with the HRTS?
-In my 20s, a former Manager of mine handed me her HRTS luncheon ticket. It was a panel discussion with the Broadcast Chiefs. It was fascinating to hear their stories, struggles and enthusiasm for television. Today, I feel just as inspired as I did then when I hear people at HRTS speak passionately about what drives them.
Q: What is a favorite memory from your career thus far?
-My most memorable years in market research thus far are the years I spent working with neuroscientists as we studied the human brain’s response to television content. We worked on studies for many major networks and advertisers across many different cultures. There are universal images and themes that resonate at the millisecond brainwave level and it is undeniable that we are more alike than we are different. After having worked on studies in the US, UK, Japan, Korea and Latin America, it’s truly amazing to see how our most primitive Self responds to visual stimuli in very similar ways, despite our socioeconomic and cultural biases.
Q: What sorts of data and analyses do you produce for SPT?
-At Sony Pictures Television, I’ve been fortunate to work with a team that believes in viewer insight. While we have a strong toolkit when it comes to ratings analysis, we also embrace primary research. I manage our proprietary Sony Insider panel and it’s been a source of insight for marketing, programming, ad sales and development. We have direct access to viewers and regularly engage with them to better understand what their thoughts are on a variety of SPT properties such as daytime’s The Queen Latifah Show and The Dr. Oz Show and feedback on our primetime and unscripted shows such as The Blacklist, Goldbergs and Shark Tank to name a few. We also spend time with our most longstanding viewers out there, people who have been watching Days of Our Lives, The Young & the Restless, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! for decades. More recently, I’ve been working with our Crackle team to gauge viewer feedback on original digital content.
Q: How are research methods different today than in the past?
-I feel market research has become a more integral part of strategy development in the entertainment business in the past 10 years. Technology has allowed us to input and analyze data much faster and more deeply than ever before which has given researchers more time to interpret the results. It’s a great time to be a researcher but it can also be debilitating when we have big data, multiple Nielsen data streams (Live, Live +SD,Live3, Live7, C3, C7), EST data, social media tracking, ever changing SVOD models and it’s all compounded by device-agnostic consumers. Each measure will tell you something different about the level of success (or demise) of a show. The industry has for some time been looking to a broader array of input from consumers to help inform decisions. As such, today’s researcher is as much an analyst as a strategic partner in exploring, and making sense, of that array of input.
Q: How do you see the industry changing over the next few years?
-The word ‘network’ will certainly be defined (and measured) differently than it is today. As Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, PlayStation, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, etc. continue to evolve as distributors of original content, I think new genres will spawn and viewers will speak in terms of ‘apps’ instead of networks. I think we will see an acceleration in the quality of programming because of the ability for content providers to more easily tap into a global, more diverse, talent pool.
Q: Anything you would like to add?
-I hope to never stop asking ‘why’ and to continue discovering those visceral moments that make our hearts race and eyes widen as we watch our favorite shows.