On the Academia-Industry Audience Research Disconnect

I’m writing from sunny Helsinki, Finland (we’re talking 20 hours a day of sun), where I’m attending and keynoting a conference hosted by Aalto University titled From Audiences to Users and Beyond, which is part of a four-year initiative sponsored by the European Commission on the subject Transforming Audiences, Transforming Societies.  What always strikes me as unusual when I attend these kinds of conferences outside of the U.S. is that a decent number of high-ranking industry professionals are always in attendance. 

Here in Helsinki, I had the pleasure of meeting the Head of Research for the Finnish Broadcasting Company, as well as the Director of Research and Development for the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry (have a look at this organization’s substantial research agenda). This kind of intersection of academic and industry researchers in the audience research field is very rare in the U.S

And my experience here in Finland has gotten me wondering why this is the case. Here’s a catalog of some possibilities:

— Academic audience researchers in the U.S. have essentially marginalized themselves via their tendency to avoid research questions of direct relevance to industry practitioners. Or at least enough have done so to create this (mis)perception in industry circles.

— Academic researchers have, too often, taken an overtly critical and hostile stance towards industry practices and concerns, minimizing the likelihood of any collaborative initiatives. Or, again, at least enough have done so to create a (mis)perception among industry researchers that academic researchers are likely to be critical/hostile towards their methods and objectives.

— There seems to be a fairly pronounced culture of secrecy around much industry research in the U.S. (more so, I think, than in other countries), which perhaps discourages any tendency to reach outside of the organization and partner with academic researchers, who generally operate in a research culture of much greater openness and accessibility.

— There’s a sizable commercial audience research sector in the U.S. compared to other countries (not only large firms like Nielsen, comScore, etc., but also a fair number of smaller, boutique research operations) to serve the needs of industry stakeholders when they need to look outside of their own organization.

— The very strict licensing restrictions placed on subscribers to commercial audience data products (such as Nielsen ratings, etc.) inhibit sharing and collaboration with academic researchers.

— Academic researchers generally don’t work at a pace that meets industry research needs; or are, at least, often perceived this way by industry stakeholders

— Academic audience researchers often don’t have regular access to, or expertise with, the growing array of software tools utilized by industry audience researchers, creating a disconnect in relevant skill sets.

This is just a catalog of possibilities that came to mind. Perhaps some or all of these are baseless. Perhaps there are other likely explanations that I’m missing.  I do think that it would be mutually beneficial if this disconnect between academic and industry audience researchers were reduced. I’ll work on making that case in a future post.

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