Participant Media and some powerful partners need to know.
For the last year Participant, an activist entertainment company that delivers movies with a message, has been quietly working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to answer a question vexing those who would use media to change the world.
That is, what actually gets people moving? Do grant-supported media projects incite change, or are they simply an expensive way of preaching to the choir?…
To get the answers it wants, Participant is developing a measuring tool that it calls the Participant Index, assisted in the effort by the Annenberg school’s Media Impact Project. In rough parallel to the Nielsen television ratings, the still-evolving index compiles raw audience numbers for issue-driven narrative films, documentaries, television programs and online short videos, along with measures of conventional and social media activity, including Twitter and Facebook presence.
The two measures are then matched with the results of an online survey, about 25 minutes long, that asks as many as 350 viewers of each project an escalating set of questions about their emotional response and level of engagement.
Did it affect you emotionally? Did you share information about it? Did you boycott a product or company? Did it change your life?
“If this existed, we would not be doing it,” said James G. Berk, chief executive of Participant. “We desperately need more and more information, to figure out if what we were doing is actually working.”
The answers result in a score that combines separate emotional and behavioral measures. On a scale of 100, for instance, “The Square,” a documentary about Egyptian political upheaval that was included in Participant’s first echelon of 35 indexed titles this year, scored extremely high for emotional involvement, with a 97, but lower in terms of provoking action, with an 87, for a combined average of 92.
By contrast, “Farmed and Dangerous,” a comic web series about industrial agriculture, hit 99 on the action scale, as respondents said, for instance, that they had bought or shunned a product, and 94 for emotion, for an average of 97. That marked it as having potentially higher impact than “The Square” among those who saw it….”