ICR study leads to format changes for WTIU’s The Weekly Special

Audrey Deiser • Feb. 28, 2018

Change is in — or on — the air for The Weekly Special, a WTIU program that travels across Indiana highlighting its different music, culture and art. The Emmy-winning program partnered with The Media School’s Institute for Communication Research to study viewers’ opinions of the show. The show will re-launch as Journey Indiana in September.

“We wanted to make sound decisions using data, and we don’t have a lot of data,” said Rob Anderson, director of education and production services. “That’s how the idea was born to either do some surveys or focus groups to get some richer data to help us make improvements to the series.”

Anderson said WTIU had been considering working with a research firm for a few years, but the company wanted to find the right fit. As a public broadcasting company, WTIU does not receive information on its ratings. WTIU has to seek out the information on its own, which is often too expensive for public broadcasting companies.

They were small, adaptable, flexible and nimble. They worked really closely with us to develop the questions. They didn’t have their own agenda in mind. —Laura Baich, WTIU marketing director

Anderson and Marketing Director Laura Baich said the small size and convenient proximity of the ICR made the partnership the perfect fit, and they would like to utilize the services again for other WTIU programs. The ICR, which is located in Franklin Hall, facilitates a variety of media research with its 10 research rooms: four psychophysiological data collection labs, two survey research rooms, a focus group room, an interview room, a content analysis room and a data analysis room equipped with digital video and audio editing suites, and physiology, eye tracking and facial coding analysis software.

“They were small, adaptable, flexible and nimble,” Baich said. “They worked really closely with us to develop the questions. They didn’t have their own agenda in mind.”

ICR Director Rob Potter and doctoral student Mona Malacane spearheaded the study. They put advertisements in The Herald-Times and online to pique interest. The duo recruited participants for four focus groups to get a wide range of opinions.

“We had four different groups because we wanted to talk to people who were familiar with the show and people who weren’t,” Potter said.

The participants were divided into groups by age and whether they had seen The Weekly Special. Potter and Malacane asked participants about general impressions of the show, the hosts and other open-ended questions.

“What I really enjoyed about this experience is being able to see the changes as a result of our work,” Malacane said. “A lot of times our research just stays in the ivory tower.”

Changes to the show, besides the name, include the music and the number of episodes per season (from 26 to 23). The show will no longer feature musical performances, and the production model will shift to 100 percent on-site segments.

“The findings between the group who had seen it and who hadn’t aligned, so I felt pretty confident that the changes we were making were the right way to go,” Baich said. “It also confirmed some of the feelings we had already had about the show.”

One big change coming to the show is a shakeup of the hosts, although that change is only indirectly related to the study. In fact, the data showed that familiar and unfamiliar viewers enjoyed the current hosts.  

Longtime hosts Darryl Neher and Erica Sagon are leaving the program due to the changes in time commitment. Since the show is changing to all on-location reporting, the job now requires longer hours.

“It was a very amicable process,” Anderson said. “They had both served a long time, and they felt like it was a good time to stop. It was their decision.”

Although many changes are taking place, the show will still be familiar to long-time viewers. Baich said the changes, like the name, just more aptly reflect what the show is really about.

“If you just see the show, when it was named The Weekly Special, it doesn’t necessarily imply Indiana or having anything to do with travel,” Baich said. “We go all around the state and look at different communities and try to find interesting people and places and stories that really show how our state is shaped.”