TV Ad-Scam

Let’s go back to August 2005.  This is another previously unseen piece that remains one of my personal favourites.  I’ve decided to post it because it reminds me of something I had recently blogged about.
 
A little while ago, I talked about TorStar’s foolhardy and deceptive plan to recruit readers for its newly established advisory groups.  (The Toronto Star version is called The Star Advisers and The Hamilton Spectator incarnation is dubbed The Spec Advisers.)  Apparently, I’ve been the only person online to write about it which speaks volumes.
 
Anyway, TorStar’s chicanery reminds me of a story I tried to get into The Hamilton Spectator 2 years ago.  After writing the story, I contacted the paper hoping to get it printed in the Forum section, the page opposite the signed editorials.  They weren’t interested in using it.  When that failed, I tried to convince them to do a proper news story about the subject of my piece.  They told me they’d look into it but apparently, they didn’t feel it was worthy of any attention so that tactic failed, as well.
 
It’s too bad because I thought this was an important story to cover. 
 
While parts of the piece are now dated, I still believe it’s an entertaining and informative look at a company that deserves more scrunity.
 
 

TV AD-SCAM
By Dennis Earl

My family received an interesting letter in the mail recently. You probably got the same one. It begins, "You have been selected to participate in a survey whose findings will directly influence what you see on television in the future. You have been selected to evaluate not-yet released television material that is being considered for nationwide broadcast. You have been selected to help represent the television viewing preferences of the entire country."

Sounds promising, doesn’t it?

The letter was sent by a company called Television Preview. Based out of Hollywood, California, they exist "for the purpose of providing independent, impartial testing of broadcast material", and they "sell neither products nor services to the general public."

They showcase 2 never-before-seen shows "to groups of people across the country. The groups evaluate what they see, and Television Preview tabulates and analyzes these evaluations. Then, they "pass them along to the people who decide whether the material will be televised."

You won’t just be watching Television; you’ll also be competing for "$250.00 in attendance prizes".

On August 25th, Television Preview is coming to downtown Hamilton to visit The Ramada Plaza Hotel and to give us lucky citizens a chance to play TV critics for a night. My family received 4 free tickets for this upcoming opportunity and if, for some reason, we can’t make it, it’s recommended we give our tickets "to friends or relatives whom" we "feel could contribute worthwhile input."

At least, that’s what they want you to believe.

If you still have this invitation from Television Preview, take a closer look at the envelope. In the upper left-hand corner you’ll notice that their address in Hollywood is simply a Post Office Box number. If you look across the top towards the upper right portion of the envelope, the truth reveals itself. The letter is postmarked "Evansville, Indiana", the real home of Television Preview.

It gets worse.

A quick search of the words "Television Preview" (with quotation marks) on Google.ca and any hope of actually screening new TV shows is shattered in a matter of seconds.

Despite their proclamations of only wanting your views on Television programming, the truth is they’re only interested in how you respond to commercials. You see, the shows they’re presenting have commercial breaks. Oh, and what about those shows? Surely, that’s not a crock, right?

Wrong.

According to numerous accounts on the web, you won’t be seeing a brand new pilot. You’ll be seeing old shows and in one case, one program that actually made it onto the air.

One of the shows they will present has been shown in presentations like this for years. It’s called City and guess when it aired: 1990. That’s right. Television Preview wants your opinion on a show that’s come and gone from the Television airwaves. The show debuted in late January 1990 and lasted but a season. According to accounts online, the show is presented because Television Preview wants you to decide whether Valerie Harper deserves another show or not. Uh huh. 

Surely, by now, considering the number of people who have seen this show in Television Preview presentations across Canada and the United States, this Indiana company would have more than enough audience information to pass on to Hollywood Television studios to decide if Ms. Harper is worthy of a return to prime time. You would think but you would be wrong.

The other show they will present on the 25th will either be Soulmates, a never-aired "one-hour paranormal drama", according to one account, or Blind Men, a rejected NBC sitcom from the late 90s which starred Patrick Warburton as a vertical blinds salesman. Then again, maybe they’ll show different programs. But judging from my research, it’s doubtful.

Most of the time you’ll be asked to fill out questionnaires related to the advertisements you’ll be seeing in between these old shows. You’ll go through page after page of products marking what you use, what you prefer, what you would like to use and what you will never use or are uninterested in using. (Oh yeah and they’ll ask you how you rated the 2 shows you just finished watching. But it’s a red herring.) During the night, 2 draws will be held. All of the completed questionnaires will go in a box and several will be selected. If you filled out one of the chosen questionnaires you win all the advertised products you selected. Whoopee, right?

According to a revealing article in Now Magazine in September 2000, the company’s real name isn’t even Television Preview, it’s RSC The Quality Measuring Company or The ARS Group of RSC The Quality Measuring Company as it states on its official website. (Personally, I love their "Corporate Philosophy": "to be an honest, positive and significant influence…as a service organization, as empiricists, as professionals, as individuals, and finally, as a business.")

Zach Dubinsky, the author of the Now article, managed to convince the company’s manager of marketing communications, Wade Holmes, to go on-the-record to explain the real purpose behind these Television Preview presentations. According to Mr. Holmes, the unsuspecting audience is "going to view television programming into which we’ve embedded videos — commercial breaks — just like they’d be seeing at home." The audience is asked to fill out two advertising-related questionnaires before and after the presentation, which I mentioned earlier. This is done so the company "can tell whether or not exposure to a particular brand message or advertising caused more people to prefer that brand."

This method is apparently called a "persuasion test" and has been used throughout the company’s history, which dates back to the early 70s. "The whole set-up," according to Mr. Holmes, "is that" the audience is "there to evaluate the programming. We try not to cue them to the advertising, because we like it to be an incidental exposure."

He added, "You’d be amazed at how few people figure it out."

Oh, and if you decide to attend August 25th, be aware of something else: telemarketers. According to a couple of accounts online, a few days or so after they attended the presentation they were contacted by phone by someone wanting to sell them something that was advertised during those pesky commercial breaks. Resist, or do what my mom does: hang up while they’re still talking.

You know that old adage, "If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t"? Whoever said it the first time must have been thinking of this deceptive company.

So do yourself a favour. Spread the word. Television Preview isn’t looking for the next Tom Shales. It’s working for the advertising industry. Don’t waste 2 precious hours of your life watching old shows on 4 tiny monitors without having anything to drink or eat. Rent The Upside Of Anger instead and eat all the popcorn you want.

 
Dennis Earl is a writer from Hamilton.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, January 19, 2007
10:05 p.m.
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Published in: on January 19, 2007 at 10:07 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It is December 27, 2009 as I write this. Apparently, I’m the first to contribute a comment. What does such a long time-span with no reply tell you about the effectiveness of this article or about the blog? It is now just a little less than a 3-year anniversary of this article having been written. Pitiful.

  2. For the record, there have been about 50 comments posted on various items on this website overall not to mention about 20 private emails, most of them quite positive and supportive. A number of the commenters have been professional media workers, some of whom have become good friends. When I wrote extensively about Sun Media and Sun TV, my hits went up and a number of the pieces were picked up by Fading To Black and Toronto Sun Family, two very popular blogs about the newspaper business. In fact, my site partially inspired the creation of FTB. I consider these quite relevant accomplishments for a blog that doesn’t have the reach of The Huffington Post or any higher profile website you could name. When The Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbisias told me that one particular post was making the rounds at her newspaper, the largest in Canada, that was a breakthrough. That post was picked up by a handful of blogs. Not bad for a Windows Live site. As for the piece you refer to, it was quoted here (http://og.vox.com/library/post/television-preview.html) and has been frequently popping up in Google searches since its posting. In fact, according to my statistics it’s been accessed directly at least a hundred times, possibly more. It’s the second most popular article on here, just behind the above mentioned Bill Brioux Responds. Perhaps the reason no one had left a comment on TV Ad-Scam before was because nothing else needed to be said. My piece said it all. As for your comment, you seem more interested in the lack of popularity my website enjoys rather than the quality of the piece. Please enlighten me on how you would deal with the same subject matter in an “effective” manner. I’m all ears.


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