It is inevitable that TV pilots are tested before they are commissioned by networks in the United States. If you look Down Under at Australian television, you will find that testing is not very common.

Audience Development Australia’s chief executive, David Castran, believes this is due to the fact that,

“creatively, people don’t want their creative judgment questioned. It’s hurtful because their show is like their baby — it hurts! But the fact is that a lot of the comments from the viewers are absolutely spot on.”

Castran said only 9 out of 36 primetime dramas in Australia were hits between 2000 and 2010. The 9 hits were pilot tested yearly. A lot of these shows were also examined externally between seasons and during seasons as well.

Audience testing is basically a form of market research. During the research, the audience is questioned on what they liked or disliked about the production. Then they are asked to elaborate on the why. Focus Group discussions are also implemented to get feedback. The researcher’s job is to explain to the filmmaker what the audience does or does not like, not how to fix the project.

The cost of testing is between $20,000 and $25,000. This large amount is justifiable for big budget programs that cost approximately $750,000 per episode. Castran said the global financial crisis has had a negative effect by cutting costs on TV program research.

TV projects need to be tested for marketing potential, playability and to find out how broad the appeal is. The re-making could include clarifying plot points, scene cuts or extensions and shooting alternate endings.

A good example of how this works is the Australian vampire production of Daybreakers. The film’s producer Chris Brown admitted, “We all loved the ending, but when we played it to an audience we didn’t get the reaction we wanted.” They received more than 250 unanimous responses of how the film did not work for the audience.

Although Screen Australia, the government funding body, does not require testing, they do highly recommend it. There are some situations where audience testing may not work. For example, the research agency may market to the wrong audience creating inaccurate results.

A lot of content creators test their projects at the concept stage, but some think this is premature. Film producer Chris Brown said,

“Audience testing is all about the film you’ve made, not about the film you’re about to make.”

He also believes that the process should not be intimidating to film makers. Brown stated,

“It’s not something that’s imposed on us; it should be something that we utilize.”

He described pilot testing as a tool for the filmmaker to get the best and most out of their film.

Cost of testing tv episode