MRMW NA 2019 Podcast Series

MRMW NA 2019 Pre-Conference Series – Natasha Hritzuk – Turner

This series is a preview of the MRMW North America Conference 2019. Join consumer insight and market research professionals as we hear from today’s thought leaders on trends and innovations in the market research industry. Mark your calendars for April 10th through the 11th in Cincinnati for the MRMW North America Conference and click the button below to register.

This is the second interview of the MRMW NA 2019 pre-conference mini series. Happy Market Research host, Jamin Brazil, interviews VP of Consumer Insights at Turner, Natasha Hritzuk. We hope you enjoy this mini series where we talk to insights professionals who are helping power the future of insight automation.

Find Natasha Online:




This episode is a preview of the MRMW North American Conference of 2019.  Join consumer insights and market research professionals as we hear from today’s thought leaders on trends and innovations in the market research industry.  Mark your calendars for April 10th through the 11th in Cincinnati for the MRMW North American Conference and head to to register or check the show notes.  I hope to see you there.

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Natasha Hritzuk, VP of Customer Insights at Turner. Turner is a global broadcast media company specializing in entertainment, sports, and news since 1970.  Prior to joining Turner, Natasha held positions such as the Global Head of Research and Insights at Microsoft and was also the Head of Category and Consumer Insights at General Mills.  

Natasha, thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.      


My pleasure.


So, MRMW is coming up in Cincinnati April 10th and 11th.  I’m very excited about this; it’s got some fantastic speakers, of course, including yourself.  Please give us a three-minute overview of your presentation.


So, we actually switched topics a little bit because I think as Christina and I continued to have a dialogue, we realized that one area that we think will be of interest to the audience is around how we have brought in fresh thinking from a market research perspective to help us tackle some of the challenges that our industry is currently facing, media and entertainment explicitly, and how we’re leveraging some of these new approaches and new ways of thinking to really define a path for innovation for the industry.  So, obviously within Turner and the broader media entertainment industry we have a couple of challenges that are considerable: One is that consumers are increasingly not interested in watching ads and, secondly, consumers are increasingly cutting the cord; so, cable subscriptions are slowly starting to wither away. innovation is actually really vital in our industry, particularly in terms of monetizing the content that we build and, ultimately, what makes consumers passionate about our brands and our properties is the content.  So, faced with this challenge, we were debating about the best way to tackle it from a research perspective. The more I started to think about some of the challenges in our industry… You know we’re entering the out-market place at a time that there is a surfeit of apps and streaming apps out there, becoming incredibly competitive. And content itself is becoming more and more commodified. There’s a ton of great content out there. So, how do we really ensure that the consumers will land on our content and have a great experience when using our streaming apps.

So I started to think that maybe some of the ways or the core way that we could tackle some of these challenges was to borrow from some of the methodologies and approaches that I used in the world of CPG where commodification or the need to really differentiate is really core to most CPG categories where you have a ton of different products usually competing in a single space.  So, what we decided to do is take an approach for building technology products and features around content and streaming as well as to help us understand the best ad walls that we should be focused on moving forward. We decided, instead of just building stuff and testing it with consumers and hoping they liked it, we thought we should really be again taking a page from the book of CPG and bringing consumers into the development process far earlier on.  So, having a really clear-cut discovery phase where you’re understanding what are the needs and unmet needs that consumers have so that we can start to build around those needs and unmet needs… And then secondly, not just building stuff and testing it, but actually having consumers baked into the build process…

What we’ve been doing across these areas that I flagged is actually building products with consumers:  So using co-creation, which historically I would have used for working with consumers to build an ice cream bar, working for an ice cream brand or a new variant of a granola bar if I was working on a snack food brand.  But instead of working on food, we worked with consumers to co-create and build technology products that are explicitly related to media. In our instance, we were looking at features, key features, for apps, streaming apps, as well as the ads that consumers would maybe even embrace that could live within the streaming environment.

And, you know, it was really fruitful because -one- I think there’s this notion that consumers don’t know what they want.  I actually would counter that by saying that consumers actually are very clear about what they want, particularly when they are not getting all of their needs met in a specific instance.  I think there’s also a risk in launching things that consumers haven’t already sanctioned or launching things that don’t address a really clear consumer need. I think CPG has just kind of nailed these approaches.  So, taking those approaches and folding them into the world of media and entertainment has been really interesting and actually pretty fruitful for us.


My favorite example of this is you go back to the first iPhone, which was I think called the Newton by Steve Jobs, which launched in the early 90s and failed miserably.  But then as the iPod maintained dominance or achieved dominance in spearheading that space… Boom, all of a sudden now you’ve got the iPhone. So, there’s this whole like market readiness that has to exist in order for the new to be consumed.  

But the other part that you said was really interesting is incorporating the consumer voice earlier in the ideation process.  One of the things that I’ve seen is a massive growth among consumer or UX researchers, UI researchers, etc… In fact, in many companies, I’ll pick on Lyft, for example, they have five researchers and over 40 UX researchers.  The reason why is because those UX researchers are sitting, the consumer experience researchers are sitting right beside the people which are implementing the product. It has to do with the proximity to when the decisions are being made.  Are you seeing that research is having a bigger opportunity than we’ve had historically to influence brands?


Well, I think in the product space historically and certainly in technology and to some extent in media, things got built, then launched.  Usually when you start doing the testing is pre-launch, but you’re already assessing or testing something that had been baked. The challenge with that is consumers will evaluate whether they like it or not, but what you will never know is whether there was a better alternative that the engineers hadn’t thought of.  I think what’s been really critical for us and what I think has been a great learning experience for us is that we don’t have to worry that we haven’t exhausted all of the adjacent opportunities that consumers might have preferred over the core idea because consumers are actually building the products and building the features to begin with.  Now, again, it may not be exhaustive, but at least we know that we’re not betting on one idea and have missed maybe five core ideas that would have been more conducive to what consumers want and need.


Yeah, it is all about creating that thing that the consumer wants when they want it.  So, your talk… What is one action that researchers can take based on the information that you’re going to be sharing?


I think part of it is just the way that we think about hiring and the hiring process.  I think historically we, as an industry, are always looking for deep specialization. So, initially it was methodological specialization, but I think we have a real tendency to hire within vertical.  If you’re a media researcher, that’s what you do for 25 years. If you’re in CPG, you just work for CPG companies. I actually think that’s a mistake: the world is incredibly complicated. I think where there are parallels is every industry for the most part is facing unique challenges.  What with the advent of digital and a lot of commoditization of products and content in various new channels that have been cropping up and just the advent of all of these new technologies… I think those themes are similar, but I think without getting fresh thinking infused into the company, to just do things the way that you’ve always done things is problematic.  I think that it stifles innovation. The more we have the courage to hire people outside of our explicit vertical and have the courage to bake in that kind of new thinking and challenge ourselves to maybe do things that other industries or verticals have done that maybe we hadn’t thought of, I think that kind of outside-of-the-box thinking is really critical to compete in such a complicated world.  Doing things the way we’ve always done things doesn’t work in a fast-changing, complex world. We need to continuously think different and think new. By having that diversity of thinking within the workplace from cross-vertical experience, I think is an important starting point. It has certainly made a difference in terms of the way that we’re approaching the rapid change within media and entertainment by bringing more of a consumer-packaged goods framed to the way we’ve been doing things.


My guest today has been Natasha Hritzuk, VP of Consumer Insights at Turner.  Thank you so much, Natasha, for joining me today on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


My pleasure.