Let's get neurophysiological

NBC tests for brain, skin activity

NBC is testing hearts and minds in its quest to track the habits of today's elusive media consumer.

The network last week received the results of its first dip into the world of neurophysiology — examining brain waves, galvanic skin response and eye movement of TV viewers. NBC used an episode of "Heroes" to find out what viewers comprehend of ads when they fast-forward past them on DVRs.

NBC Uni research chief Alan Wurtzel said that the preliminary findings, which the network and research company are still sifting through, confirm previous re-search from multiple sources including Nielsen Media Research and Millward Brown that said viewers remain involved even though they're fast-forwarding.

"There is some engagement, some comprehension going on," Wurtzel said. "It's not as though they are a blank slate."

Testing was conducted on 20-25 volunteers by Innerscope Research, a Massachusetts-based firm co-founded by Carl Marci of Harvard Medical School. Innerscope uses a biomonitoring system of wearable but unobtrusive sensors — Wurtzel called them a sort of jacket — that measure brain activity. Galvanic skin response is the change in the skin's electrical field in response to an emotion.

It's a leap forward from the traditional testing, which asked questions of viewers about what they had seen and what they remembered. It won't, however, replace any of the other measures — like Nielsen Media Research metrics and the other ways network researchers test shows and advertising.

"We felt that we need to go out and understand consumer behavior in as many ways as possible," Wurtzel said.

Wurtzel declined to go into further detail but said the neurophysiological responses between viewers who watched "Heroes" in normal playback speed and also fast-forwarding was in some cases not much different.

Details of the test and other new NBC research initiatives will be unveiled today at the network's annual development meeting in Burbank. It was mentioned briefly by Beth Comstock, NBC Universal's president of integrated media, during Tuesday's TV ad forum sponsored by the Association of National Advertisers in New York.

NBC's research department also is working to create a way to aggregate audiences to get a sense of how NBC Universal's multiple platforms are performing on broadcast, cable, broadband, VOD and mobile wireless. NBC Uni has dubbed it TAMi, for total audience measurement interactive.

"It's not a metric for currency," Wurtzel said. "It's a way to try to get a sense of this 360-degree performance, because this is really what the future is about."