Market Researcher Screen Engine Finds New Way to Track Pop Culture Consumers (EXCLUSIVE)

A leading entertainment research firm is trying to upend the way that consumers are tracked, reached and marketed to by emphasizing people’s political beliefs, values and spending habits instead of their sexual orientation or skin color.

When it comes to movies, shows and Web programs, popular culture consumption is being driven more by a person’s age than ethnicity. Yet films and shows are still viewed as being pitched at gay audiences or Latino crowds when the reality is that moviegoers and binge-watchers represent a media melting pot.

The shift in how television and film audiences should be viewed is being pioneered by Screen Engine/ASI. The company is drawing on a yearlong survey of 30,000 Americans to discover their likes and dislikes and the attributes that link them and divide them.

The company’s number crunching comes during a period of seismic demographic changes in the United States, where minority groups have become the majority in four states and in Washington, D.C.

Nationwide, minority groups are projected to outrank Caucausians by 2040.

“As more multicultural and more multiracial integration has occurred, we have definitely moved away from a white, patriarchal society,” said Kevin Goetz, founder and CEO of Screen Engine/ASI. “One has to recognize that America’s face has changed. We want to shed light on the fact that there’s a different way to view consumers in this new America that networks, studios and advertisers all need to embrace.”

Many Hollywood players still view the American public as being predominantly white even though population statistics would suggest the ground is shifting beneath them. Moreover, the audience for popular movies and shows is hardly monochromatic. Statistics show that Hispanics and African-Americans see more movies than other ethnic groups, and shows such as “Empire” and “How to Get Away With Murder” have become ratings smashes on the strength of black audiences.

Screen Engine plans to offer the data it collected to clients that include television and cable networks, studios and independent distributors, in the form of a quarterly, subscription-based report dubbed the “New Majority Brief.”

Instead of breaking down various constituencies purely by ethnicity, Screen Engine/ASI has created new groupings that cluster people by their shared behaviors, attitudes and media consumption — Live Wires, Mainstreamers, Individualists and Family Traditionalists.

Its Live Wire group makes up 22% of the general population. The people in this cluster are principally 18-34 and more ethnic and male, politically liberal, cutting edge, trend setting and sexually active. They tend to be optimistic and are more likely to identify by their ethnic heritage. They also are heavily into social media and gaming, tend to listen to radio late at night and are the heaviest viewers of TV programs on the Internet, watching a minimum of a couple of times a week. Their favorite genres include concerts, biographies, celebrity and talent reality shows.

The Mainstreamer segment represents 24% of the general population and hails from so-called Generation X or 35 to 49 year olds. They are politically moderate to conservative, cost conscious, and more mainstream in their taste. Money is a major concern for this group and they are the heaviest viewers of primetime TV.

The Individualists rubric is comprised of 22% of the population with a strong LGBT representation and a number of people over the age of 50. They are politically liberal, unconventional, quirky and into self-discovery and creativity. They enjoy watching theatrical movies on TV, as well as talk shows.

The Family Traditionalists designation consists of 32% of the general population and is primarily over 50 and more heavily female. This group is politically conservative, focused on family relationships and have an active spiritual life. They gravitate toward talk shows, food/cooking shows and crime dramas.

Goetz and his collaborator, Melva Benoit, who headed up the research division at Fox Broadcasting and NBC before becoming the founder and principal at Marian Dupree Group, were partly inspired to redefine traditional labels by the Obama campaign. They note that in 2012, the president’s re-election team was able to slice and dice demographic information and consumer habits to track and turn out the vote.

“Multicultural is the new general market,” said Benoit. “Traditionally, marketers and researchers have defined the general market as predominantly white. So they segment consumers, first by race, then by attitudes and behaviors. Today people define themselves by cultural references and attitudes which go beyond race. The Obama presidential campaign picked up on this fact, which contributed to its success.”

Benoit and Goetz argue that the information they gather can be used in two ways. It can inform the projects the studios put together at the development and pre-production stages.

“It changes the way you think about the content you’re making and maybe it forces you to be more color blind in your casting so you can bring as many eyeballs to your story as possible,” said Benoit.

It also allows advertisers to better pinpoint their marketing, instead of simply relying on a few broad generalizations about the types of shows a certain segment of the population watches and the messages that will most resonate with those groups.

“This product is designed to illuminate a new way of looking beyond traditional demography. It’s limiting to simply say, ‘I want to find Caucasian males over 25’ or ‘African American men under 25,’” said Goetz. “If you think of your sphere of friends, you realize that it’s not based on simply age and race. We’re multiracial and multicultural, and people are no longer defined in such limiting ways.”

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