Q&A with Broadway Musical Dial Researcher Doug Connett

Seeing live Perception Analyzer dial results from Broadway-bound "Somewhere in Time"
Photo courtesy of Leah Nash for The New York Times.
Producer Ken Davenport, far left, and the marketing experts Douglas Connett, center, and Cody Lassen view the real-time results from the Perception Analyzer dials.

In case you missed it, The New York Times recently profiled a new area of research for the Perception Analyzer where the dials were used to gather audience feedback during live performances of the Broadway-bound musical “Somewhere in Time.” The project was run by research consultant and Perception Analyzer system owner Doug Connett. Doug and his research partner Cody Lesson conducted dial groups of 60 audience members for each of the first three performances during the musical’s world premiere in Portland, Oregon.

We spent a few minutes with Doug to find out more about this project and what he learned from it.

Q: Where did the idea for this research project come from? Was this the first time the dials were used to test a major theatrical production?
DC: As far as I know, this was the first time this type of research was conducted on a large, Broadway-bound type of show. The idea actually came from Cody Lesson. Cody used to work at Universal Studios theme park. I met him there when I was doing the dial research on some of the live shows at the park. Cody found the research very interesting and thought it could work for theater as well. So, he went about selling the idea to his contacts in the theater industry and was able to get Ken to buy into it.

Q: How did you sample the audience members for this?
DC: Similar to what we did at Universal, which was to recruit out of the lines. We followed a similar approach for this project. The producers had the chance to send a few emails out ahead of time to let people know that we were doing this research and invite them to be included. But mostly, when people walked into the theater, Cody and a few others would approach possible candidates and explain to them what we were doing and ask if they wanted to participate. They were doing a lot of eyeballing to try to get a good mix of men and women, older and younger. Only requirement was that they have a seat in the orchestra because we didn’t want to try to manage people up in the balcony. We did not reserve a block of seats so the respondents were spread throughout the theater.

Q: So, you pulled from the natural pool of people who had already purchased tickets to the show?
DC: Yes. We didn’t recruit anyone ahead of time to come see the show. Our respondents all came from the pool of existing ticketholders.

Q: Did you have an opportunity to instruct them?
DC: They were all instructed individually. They were given brief instructions when they were recruited and then additional instructions before they entered the theater but it was all done one-on-one. Respondents were also given some written instructions so they received instruction through different methods which I think is helpful.

Q: Any feedback from the respondents on their experience with the dials?
DC: Most enjoyed the experience and thanked us for giving them the opportunity. There was one couple in particular where the wife agreed to the dial and the husband chose not to do it. After the performance, the husband said that he had wished he had the dial too as they found that his wife really enjoyed the experience. On the whole, the respondents really seemed to feel a sense of responsibility and empowerment as we made it clear to them during the instructions that their opinion plays a role in how the performance is evaluated and what changes need to be made.

Q: Were the dial results used in conjunction with interviews or other surveys?
DC: There was a questionnaire that respondents were asked to fill out that asked some demographic and qualitative questions. Also, after the first couple of shows, they did a focus group with some of the dial respondents, but it wasn’t as formal as what we’d do in a research study. It did give us an opportunity though to dive a bit deeper on what we were seeing with the dials. Additionally, we were able to synch up the demographic data with the dial responses after-the-fact to be able to subset the dial results by demographics.

Q: What were some of the unique challenges of this project?
DC: Probably the biggest challenge is having almost no control over the respondent group out there. You’re in a theater with 600 – 700 seats and you don’t know where your dials are. Additionally, the nature of this being a live event – there are no ‘do overs,’ and no ability to stop and re-set.

Q: Is there a plan to do any more testing for “Somewhere in Time?”
DC: Ideally, we’d like to test it again after Ken has made any changes.

Q: Have you heard from any other producers or anyone else in the industry about doing the dial groups?
DC: Haven’t heard about anything else as of yet. But it’s only been a few months. Some people will look at this as a useful tool. I think that Ken was happy with how it turned out and he might do it again. I know Cody is interested in it and he’s well-connected within the Broadway community so I’m encouraged.

Thanks Doug and good luck on your next on- or off-Broadway project.