Russian shows get self-exams

Evaluations help marketers make better decisions

MOSCOW — In a TV market worth an annual $6 billion, and with advertising revenues beginning to rise after taking a battering in the global economic slowdown of the past two years, audience and program research is becoming a key factor in Russia.

“Our audience is no longer stuck behind the Iron Curtain; they see Western TV on the Internet and demand content of an equally high quality,” says Vyacheslav Murugov, a former career officer in the Russian army who is now chief content officer for CTC Media, the country’s top commercial TV group. CTC Media runs free-to-air channels that include CTC, Domashny and DTV.

There are few market research specialists in the country: TNS Russia has been involved in measuring and analyzing viewer numbers for the past decade, and also offers program research services.

But such services — including evaluating pilot shows, use of focus groups and other tools for determining whether to pump more money into a new project or pull the plug — tend to remain an inhouse activity.

Set up in the mid-1990s by U.S. TV entrepreneur Peter Gerwe, who brought a Western sensibility to both content and market research, CTC has become a leading producer, working closely with Hollywood networks on adaptations, and developing its own content via its Soho Media and Costa Film shingles as well as independent producers.

CTC typically spends $30,000 on research for pilots that cost between $100,000 and $300,000 to produce. That money is usually spent inhouse, but outside expertise is sometimes bought in, the company says.

“Vorononi,” the hit local version of CBS hit “Everybody Loves Raymond,” bowed after CTC examined focus groups’ reactions to two pilots. The show now has more than 120 episodes to its credit, and with budgets of $100,000-plus per show, spending money early on to measure audience reaction paid off.

CTC’s homegrown series “Papini dochki,” about a single father and his daughters, was a clear ratings winner from the start after focus group research suggested a casting change.

Still, Murugov says focus groups alone can’t determine a show’s fate.

“Research is a useful and important instrument,” Murugov says, “but the final decision is taken by the producers and channel executives.”