PRODUCTION JOURNAL: The Participant Index Attempts to Figure Out Why Media Audiences Love and Do the Things They Do

Back in March, 2014, Participant Media partnered with the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center's Media Impact Project (MIP) to announce their collaboration in the service of understanding the social impact of entertainment media.  Their efforts would be named The Participant Index (TPI) and would asses the impact of both Participant and non-Participant supported projects across the range of entertainment: narrative film, documentary films, scripted and reality/alternative TV, short online videos, CSR and branded entertainment.

The NY Times now provides us with an update on this latest quest to uncover the holy grail of audience metrics:

...[N]ew measures of social impact will enable sharper focus and rapid course corrections in what have often been guesswork campaigns to convert films into effective motivational weaponry. That approach would apply to a hit like the movie “Lincoln,” which counseled civic engagement, or to a box-office miss like the antifracking film “Promised Land.” Both were Participant-backed films. 
To get the answers it wants, Participant is developing a measuring tool that it calls the Participant Index, assisted in the effort by the Annenberg school’s Media Impact Project. In rough parallel to the Nielsen television ratings, the still-evolving index compiles raw audience numbers for issue-driven narrative films, documentaries, television programs and online short videos, along with measures of conventional and social media activity, including Twitter and Facebook presence. 
The two measures are then matched with the results of an online survey, about 25 minutes long, that asks as many as 350 viewers of each project an escalating set of questions about their emotional response and level of engagement. 
Did it affect you emotionally? Did you share information about it? Did you boycott a product or company? Did it change your life? 
“If this existed, we would not be doing it,” said James G. Berk, chief executive of Participant. “We desperately need more and more information, to figure out if what we were doing is actually working.”   
The answers result in a score that combines separate emotional and behavioral measures.
Participant hopes to use the index to inform and improve their financing and marketing decisions as well as assist other partners and producers with their own projects.
The methodologies being used for the index will be provided on an open-source basis to those who are interested — whether on the left or right or in the center of the ideological spectrum. 
“We’re developing a set of tools and measures that will be available for any researcher, no matter what their viewpoint,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Lear Center.
Participant, created in 2004 by the eBay co-founder Jeffrey S. Skoll, is using that methodology to build a proprietary database. It will feature three echelons with 35 projects each, or about 100 distinct bits of media, annually. 
The company will lean heavily toward films and television shows of its own, especially those carried on its activism-driven online and pay-television network, Pivot. But it will also index properties for partners, like the Gates and Kaiser Family foundations, and for companies or others who will pay a fee. 
In the end, the real question for filmmakers and producers, not affiliated with Participant, will be is, TPI useful or just alot of "sound and fury signifying nothing?" 


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