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Hollywood’s National Research Group Expands Into Asia (EXCLUSIVE)

Media research and testing firm National Research Group is this month to open its first office in Asia. The new unit will be located in Singapore and eventually operate across a widely-defined version of Asia Pacific that includes mainland China, Japan and India.

Best known for its behind the scenes role in pre-release testing of Hollywood movies, NRG has 40 years of operations behind it and from 2002 was part of research giant Nielsen. In 2015 it was sold to the Stagwell Group, a private equity investor backed by former Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer.

Since then the share of its business devoted to theatrical film has diminished to roughly 65% as the company has diversified. In association with other Stagwell portfolio companies, NRG has expanded into coverage of the streaming, TV and games sectors, with a small portion addressing tracking of social media.

The new office will be headed by Harry Ponsonby and Dianne Kamin, as VPs, with over 30 years in the Research business. Ponsonby with skills in creative qualitative research across global markets, joins from NRG’s London office. Kamin joins from NRG’s Los Angeles headquarters, where she advised content creators on strategic marketing and positioning initiatives.

Working from a distance, NRG has previously conducted quantitative and qualitative entertainment research in Japan, South Korea, and China. It has more recent experience in India, Thailand, and the Philippines. The new hub will allow it to address other territories including Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and to work across the entire content, creation and distribution lifecycle.

“The way we were growing, we needed more help on the ground,” CEO Jon Penn told Variety. “It is a good anchor point with many of the big American media companies basing their local, Asia operations there.”

NRG also arrives at a time when streaming is increasingly competing with traditional TV companies for eyeballs, and are beginning to rival them in spending on content. “We need more detectives on the ground, deciphering culture and how people connect with stories,” Penn said.

“APAC over-the-top TV episode and movie revenues are forecast to reach $48 billion by 2024, more than double the $21 billion recorded in 2018, according to third party data from Research and Markets, Asia Pacific OTT TV and Video Forecasts Report, cited by NRG.

The company makes the move at a time when many Asian companies are amassing mountains of data and, with less restrictive privacy laws than in Europe or North America, are not shy of using computing power to analyze it. Penn says that does not rule out NRG-type operations. “We find that our direct to consumer clients have the most data. What we do is create context for them.”

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