FRANK N. MAGID ASSOCIATES

Though little known by the public at large, Frank N. Magid Associates is one of the most successful and influential television and entertainment consulting companies in existence. Founded in 1957 by a young social psychologist, the company has grown to over 300 employees and serves clients around the world. The first client was television station WMT (now KGAN) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The company is still headquartered in neighboring Marion, Iowa, but also has offices in Los Angeles, London, and Kuala Lumpur.

Magid Associates emphasizes custom research on audience and client attitudes and behavior and this specifically tailored work is designed to answer questions about business strategy. For local television, the company operates in consideraly more than the top 100 markets in the United States. In each market it provides consulting to one television station. It also provides various services for each of the U.S. networks and many studios and syndicators. Magid's services have been extended to clients elsewhere in the entertainment industries, such as record companies and movie producers and the company contracts with any other businesses desiring marketing or survey research. It is increasingly employed by international clients in television and other media.

A significant part of Magid Associates' operations, indeed the work for which they are most well known, is consulting with the news departments of local television stations. The company became the leading news consultant of the 1970s and controversy followed this success. Magid is often credited--or blamed--for design of the "Action News" format, and the sameness of local news broadcasts from station to station and city to city is seen as a result of their advice and that of similar news consulting firms. This sameness is produced by the repetition of news presentation techniques. The formulas include the use of co-anchors, a reliance on short news stories with time for chatting and expressing emotional reactions between items, an emphasis on graphics and live shots irrespective of their contribution to the news story, special attention to the looks and clothes of the news presenters, and the use of lighter stories and positive news in a mix with sensational crime and accident stories.

On the other hand, Magid Associates do consistently emphasize the importance of local news. They claim that their client stations win more journalism awards than their competitors and promote the generalization that stations that lead their markets in news usually also lead in overall ratings. This perspective provides a rationale for localism in a business, network TV, that often ignores local issues. Certainly the news presentation styles that Magid Associates advise have attracted an audience and been successful for television as a business. And from the financial perspective it is also important that local news broadcasts include as many or more minutes of local advertising time as any other programming activity. The news programs are a major source of direct income, making the profitability of the local news one of the most important factors in the business success of a television station.

 

A typical news consulting operation involves a meeting between a team of consultants and the managment of a television station. The purpose of this meeting is to identify the concerns of the local managers. The consultants' primary research method is telephone surveying, often with people who have agreed ahead of time to watch the newscast in question and compare it with the newscast they regularly watch. They may also mail video tapes to selected interviewees or use an empty cable channel for trial broadcasts. The newscast in question is subjected to expert critique and compared to the competitors' newscasts, national trends, and leading newscasts in other markets. Finally the consultants offer advice on anything from personnel hiring and firing, through story selection and news script writing, to set design, graphics, promotions, lighting, camera angles, on-camera demeanor, clothes, make-up, and hair style.

Using similar research techniques, which emphasize data gathered from audience members asked to make evaluative comparisons, they consult on any aspect of television station operations of concern to the client, on program evaluations or on marketing research. The basic rationale of Magid Associates' consulting is that television stations and other entertainment businesses will be more successful if they attract and hold a sizeable audience; that the best way to do this is to give the audience what it finds attractive; and finally, that since audience members are not often articulate about what they want, researchers and expert consultants are needed to identify what the audience will find attractive.

- Eric Rothenbuhler

FURTHER READING

Goldman, Kevin. "Consultant Hired to Tinker with NBC-TV: 'Today' & News Under Scrutiny." Variety (Los Angeles, California), 21 December 1983.

"Magid Firm Jumps from ABC to NBC." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 2 January 1984.

Stein, M.L. "Making Research Relevant: Panelists Debate Role of Market Information, Methods of Gathering and Analyzing Data." Editor & Publisher (New York), 30 June 1990.

 

See also Market; News, Local and Regional