Headquartered in Los Angeles, Screen Engine/ASI, is a global market research and data analytics firm specializing in all forms of content testing including, movie test screenings, creative advertising testing, television program and gaming assessment, promo testing, exit polling, content lifecycle research, pre-release tracking of movie, TV & home entertainment titles, and a variety of digital entertainment research products. The company helps creators and brands maximize results by engaging with audiences of every size from the earliest stages of consideration through market realization. We sat down with Founder & CEO Kevin Goetz (pictured) to learn more.
Please share some of your latest work and what has you particularly excited right now.
Virtuworks is a relatively new product and one we believe has great potential for growth. It is a groundbreaking virtual research platform launched in 2021 that recreates the live/in-theater experience either in VirtuworksLive (synchronous) or VirtuworksOnDemand (asynchronous) online environments while maintaining quality, value and best-in-class security. VirtuworksRoundtable provides the same benefits for qualitative research including online focus group sessions. This platform allows clients to remotely view an online recruited audience as they watch the DRM protected content. Clients also have the option of seeing respondents reacting in-the-moment using live dial or emoji feedback modes to register their emotional reactions to the content. As Virtuworks is an online platform it can meet a client’s request for global, regional, or localized respondents. Initial results are available in real time and then more comprehensively immediately following the viewing.
For several years now research companies have realized they can't simply deliver insights but need to consult closely with clients to help them implement and communicate insights across their corporations to have a real impact. How are you going about this?
We have never viewed our role as simply delivering insights. We have a deeply experienced executive team servicing our clients who each have a vast degree of knowledge they bring to every project combined with years of experience working with many of our clients. We continually identify the levels of passion, advocacy, and evangelism in all that we test, seeing ourselves not as consultants but as champions for the voices of audiences and customers. This leads to us being looked to as an important resource to help our direct clients implement and communicate our insights to stakeholders within and outside of their companies.
How do you see the role of the research methods that you employ changing as data streams continue to proliferate and analytics becomes more sophisticated?
We position ourselves as making the complex beautifully simple. Having more data should make it easier to understand what people think and do. But it doesn’t, people are often contradictory in their opinions and behavior, so it’s easy to get lost in information overload. We bring clarity to the most complex problems through an approach that cuts through the noise to provide an essential truth, a clear path and the confidence to make the right decision.
If you had to identify a single obstacle to gaining better insights – what would it be?
As most consumer researchers, we rely primarily on online methods to gather data. We are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of sample being provided by independent sample providers. It is estimated that at best only 10% of the US population is participating in any online research activity. That’s around 30-35 million Americans who all of us in research go to for the answers we seek. I urge sample providers to expand the available universe of respondents. What can we do? Shorten length of surveys? Increase incentives? We are all in this together and should be looking at solutions versus simply competing with each other to get the same respondents into our specific surveys. The other sampling issue is the increasing evidence of bots, not humans, completing surveys. If this issue isn’t proactively and aggressively addressed, the quality of insights will be dangerously weakened.
What is your biggest pain point currently? How are you working to fix it?
As we have grown, our biggest pain point has become driving organic revenue growth stemming from increasing and deepening the work we do for current clients, particularly with the increasing pressure that they have on their budgets. This issue may be solving itself as we see emerging a client desire to reduce the number of firms with which they work. Up until this recent indication of change, many clients restricted the amount of work given to one firm in a desire to spread their work to multiple firms. Now, we see indications that clients are seeing the value of working with fewer and thereby more committed firms. We have not seen a meaningful change in the client contacts with whom we work.
What are you doing to measure the business impact of your insights?
A great deal of our work provides measurements of our insights on business impact. For example, our movie research work provides KPI’s that have a direct correlation to a movie’s box office performance. Another example are both our syndicated and custom trackers which provide KPI feedback on marketing and competitive performance and projectablity associated with content, media and messaging effectiveness, platform, and brand client work.
What is the number-one area of improvement your business is working on (e.g., speed to insights, DIY tools, improving data quality, etc.)?
We consider our product strategy to be visionary and accordingly we are investing in platform evolution and feature development. We are integrating our legacy systems as we develop new service focus applications.
What are the most common problems that brands bring to your door?
Building a brand is about establishing real and lasting relationships with customers, relationships based on the emotional connection, fulfillment of needs, and trust. Brands come to us to help them gain insights on how to deepen and foster connections in an overcrowded marketplace through an authentic understanding of what their brand stands for. We believe emotion rules in brand choice, and we work with clients who are looking for help in harnessing the drivers behind building a strong brand connection with their customers.
What are your immediate (1 year) and long-term (5 years) goals for your company?
In the next twelve months we are looking for growth in revenue and profitability and to integrate our newest acquisition, Coherency, into the SEA family. Our five-year goal is double our revenue and EBITDA by continuing to concentrate attention on organic growth as we acquire complementary companies in direct and adjacent categories.
Tell us a bit about how you decided to form your company and how you went about growing it in its early stages. What surprised you most about being an entrepreneur?
I decided to form Screen Engine to empower and realize my belief that I could build a successful business enterprise. It was the perfect time to make the leap as my employer was selling to a conglomerate. I started with no business, in my living room, and my capital limited to what I could put on credit cards and borrow from my 401K and IRA. I was pleased when I quickly heard from clients with whom I had worked over the past 20+ years that they were rooting for me with a sense that I was an underdog and they wanted to see the underdog succeed.
With the support of loyal friends and by authentically cultivating and nourishing business relationships, I profitably finished the first year in business and have had meaningful double-digit growth every year since. From day one, I dedicated myself and those who I brought into the company to the standard that we would never deliver any work that we weren’t proud of. I found myself and others in the company successfully transitioning in importance to clients as they became more trusted advisors than simply vendors of market research.
I think every time we work with a client we need to do it with a sense that it is the first time we are working with that client and we want to shine. I have been an entrepreneur since my early days at my sidewalk lemonade stand to the dance studio I opened when I was in was 17. I am not sure if much has surprised me over all these years of being one, but I do concur with something a friend once told me he had heard, a successful entrepreneur is driven by a simple alchemy, a healthy dose of both self-doubt and paranoia.
What prompted you to join the Insights Association / What have been the most valued benefits of membership for you and your team thus far?
There are many organizations and associations that appeal to firms such as ours to support and join. I personally have always been a joiner of quality organizations that bring like-minded people together. Of importance to our decision to join IA is that we really do not think of ourselves primarily as a market research company, but more as an insights company. We do not see our most significant value to our clients as collecting and reporting data to them. We have not staffed or supported our executives to simply provide charts and graphs as a data deliverable. We represent that we practice the science and art of “Audience-ology.” As audience and consumer advocates, we speak to clients in those voices to help maximize the potential for success and minimize the risk of failure. IA represents to us an association focused on the importance and value of meaningful insights and we are happy to be members.