Focus groups are one of the many useful tools that market researchers can use to get qualitative feedback from customers. A focus group is an interview of multiple people conducted simultaneously. It is an excellent technique to quickly find opinions and issues. It also tests the impact of peer pressure on the acceptability of new concepts.

The group can consist of between five to 20 people and last from one to two hours, depending on the topics to be discussed and data to be collected. Usually, two people from the market research firm also participate. A moderator ensures that each participant is given a chance to speak, keeps the group on topic and on schedule, and makes sure each item on the agenda is covered. Another researcher takes notes, operates the audio and video recording equipment, and communicates with any client(s) who may be observing the focus group,

After the recent announcement by NBC to rearrange its evening broadcast schedule, both Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno (the talk show hosts whose shows are affected) stated that NBC ran extensive focus groups prior to the launch of their respective shows this past season. The focus group results indicated their shows would be successful. Hopefully, this clip on Hulu is not an example of the way the focus groups were run.

Note that focus groups can only provide qualitative data such as the appeal of Mr. Leno’s hosting style to viewers at 10:00 pm and of Mr. O’Brien’s style at 11:35 pm. Focus groups should not be used to generate quantitative estimates of data such as audience size or broadcast ratings, demographic profile of viewers, or advertising revenue. (That is, if 50% of focus group attendees say they would definitely watch Jay Leno at 10 pm, that does not mean that NBC should expect a 50% share of the viewing audience at 10 pm.)