The Times reports that the only decent programme on BBC1 nearly got shelved:
Unveiling the final episode of the current run yesterday, Russell T. Davies, the writer, revealed that pre-transmission market research suggested that the BBC was heading for a £10 million disaster. He said: “The research found that no one wanted to watch Doctor Who. Kids said it was a programme for their parents. The parents said it was a dead show. I expected it to die a death after one year.” The research paper, based on interviews with viewers, is now gathering dust in a BBC marketing executive’s drawer. It found that viewers thought Doctor Who was a “niche” series for “science fiction geeks”, far from the family audience BBC One was seeking. The flop Thunderbirds feature-film revival was raised as a discouraging comparison. But the series has attracted seven million viewers, obliterating ITV1’s Saturday night competition, while remaining a critical success.
This corroborates one of my priors – that market research is rubbish. I’m no econometrician; what I know about statistics could be written on a gnat’s scrotum. But whenever I’ve seen such research even I’ve been staggered by its crudeness.
The fact that companies do it at all, I suspect, reveals their fear of taking risks; it shows that managerialism and entrepreneurship are two conflicting things.
But, this is mere prejudice. The problem is: how can we tell how much damage market research does? I mean, if good ideas and products never get launched because of adverse market research, how will we know what we are losing? What can you tell me to shake my prejudice?