Under Hollywood Stars
By Caroline Baron-Courcy
Have you ever wondered what makes a TV show a hit or a flop?
Benoit Landry (BA [Communications],’03), Director of Consumer and Marketing Intelligence at NBCUniversal, can shed some light on what happens behind the scenes.
Landry and his team have a direct impact on the programs offered by NBC.
“The goal of entertainment programming is to entertain. If we manage to make people forget their daily grind, relax, smile and maybe even see things differently, we’ve done our job,” says Landry.
Each spring, the network receives several pilot episodes that aim to convince the network to sign on for a full television series. Landry and his team assemble a focus group to represent the target audience and gather their impressions. They then cross-reference, compare and analyse the data to help senior managers make the best decisions. This involves having the sample audience watch the pilot episode under observation, fill out a questionnaire, and then discuss the choice of actors, the characters, the plot, the special effects, the music, the visual appeal, etc. All these elements must be evaluated in order to predict whether the proposed TV series will be a hit or a flop. The same process is then repeated to guide the publicity campaign that will advertise the new series.
Once Landry and his team have completed their analyses and made recommendations, between four and ten new programs will be slotted into NBC’s fall lineup. But even with all this rigorous analysis, series selection is still a gamble, and the role of Director of Consumer and Marketing Intelligence goes much further. Landry and his team work closely with series producers and writers, advising them, sometimes helping them to change plot lines, giving a greater role to characters with more audience appeal, or eliminating other characters altogether to ensure greater success.
“We do everything we can to make sure the series keeps the audience’s attention for 22 episodes a year, for five years, on average.”
And it is that kind of input that generates hits like 30 Rock created by Tina Fey, and Chicago Fire, another series that draws in faithful viewers.
His work has changed drastically since he was first hired at NBC. Over the past decade, the industry has evolved at breakneck speed.
“When I first started, we only worked with television. We proposed linear programming and viewers watched their shows at a specific time according to a regular schedule. Ratings were the measure of success,” says Landry. “Today, our viewers watch our content in various ways: they use the NBC mobile app, video on demand, streaming content sites like Hulu and Netflix. Viewing behaviour has changed and it has become harder and harder to reach such a diffuse audience that has access to such a broad range of quality content. In addition, we now have a wealth of data to take into account, including the public’s reaction on social media. The landscape is much more complex, but also much richer.”
So how did this boy from Gatineau hit the Hollywood big time?
It all began with a calculated risk. He started to think seriously about what he would do after graduation during the third year of his bachelor’s in communications at uOttawa. Should he enter the job market? He felt too young, given that he had skipped CEGEP between high school and university, a path reserved for only the best Quebec students. His excellent academic record, his thirst for learning and his interest in media were pointing him in the direction of graduate studies but the Faculty of Arts did not offer a master’s program in communications in those days. So Professor Lise Boily, who still teaches at the Department of Communications, advised him to look into graduate studies at an American university. Since studying south of the border without mastering English seemed very unrealistic, Landry added a few optional English courses during his final undergraduate year. When he received his bachelor’s degree from uOttawa, he was ready to tackle an MA at the University of Southern California (USC).
Taking courses at USC meant being immersed in the very heart of the media and entertainment industry. And so it was no surprise to see Landry snag an internship with NBC, one of the top information and entertainment production, development and broadcasting companies in the world. This experience then led to a position as a junior analyst within NBC’s research department once he completed his master’s degree in 2005. He then rapidly rose up the corporate ladder.
Although he has built his career in a fast-paced industry in Los Angeles, Landry hasn’t forgotten his roots. Technology allows him to keep in touch with the French-Canadian and Quebec culture that he loves. Each year, he makes a point of returning to the Outaouais area to visit family and meet up with uOttawa friends at Father and Sons or at the Royal Oak near campus. Each time, he is amazed by the growth of his alma mater.
However this year, the University came to him as part of the Defy the Conventional: the Campaign for uOttawa launch in Los Angeles.
“I met with other alumni who, like me, have built their careers in California; we’ve promised to keep in touch.”
Did you know that 246 University of Ottawa alumni are building careers in sunny California?
Attend the Golden Globes? Why not! Photo: NBCUniversal