Conceptually, I have no problem with focus groups. When a studio dumps millions of dollars into a mass market project, they want to make sure that the target audience is responding to what they’ve created. In the case of the late, lamented Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Cartoon Network showed it to separate groups of boys and girls, gauging their reaction to the CG half-hour show.
And according to the marketing critters in charge of the tests, the kids didn’t care for it.
But in a comic published on his Tumblr, series producer Giancarlo Volpe says that the focus testing asked the wrong questions when it came to the show.
“They claimed the kids were confused,” comic Volpe says. “But that’s not what Jim and I saw. They were laughing and cheering. The asked tons of great questions, because they genuinely wanted to know more.”
In just a few panels, Volpe hits on the challenge of focus testing, which is very metrics-driven (what kind of numerical response is our audience giving us?) vs. process-driven (how is this thing letting us engage our viewers?). The bit at the end with Batman: The Animated Series producer Bruce Timm, explaining how he and his team avoided focus grouping themselves out of one of the best animated series in TV history, is the other side of that coin: no one ever really knows anything.