Dial testing is a quantitative consumer research method used to measure and gauge viewers’ reactions to television programs, commercials, and other broadcast media by tracking their emotions in real-time. It involves a dial or joystick device that viewers use to register their responses while they watch the program.
Dial testing provides an accurate, objective measure of viewer reactions over time–second by second–instead of relying solely on survey data or post-viewing interviews. The dial, typically held as a joystick, is prompted by questions related to the viewing experience (e.g., “how do you feel right now?”). Participants can then answer simply by moving the knob up or down on a scale between two extremes (e.g., from sad to happy). This allows researchers to capture how viewers feel as each element unfolds within the movie, TV show or commercial.
Dial testing taps into visceral responses not normally captured by traditional surveys; for example, it can measure surprise, suspense, excitement and joy throughout the viewing experience. The resulting data gives marketers an understanding of which scenes evoke an emotional response from viewers and how this reaction evolves over time. As such, it enables researchers to gain insights about what resonates best with their target audiences and what doesn’t. It can also be used to benchmark against competitors’ offerings or modify existing content based on feedback from test audiences.
Dial tests require specialized technology that allows multiple views to combine their dial readings into one overall result set. By aggregating results across many participants at once, it’s possible to get statistically significant data points that provide valuable feedback on topic relevancy and appeal levels across both men and women and different age groups.
To ensure accuracy in interpreting audience emotions while carrying out dial testing, questions must be correctly phrased so respondents easily understand them – phrases such as ‘downscale’ should be avoided due to potential confusion, stimuli slides should be tested prior for clarity, participants must remain attentive throughout the testing process, and any technical issues should be identified quickly during pre-testing sessions before full research commences. Careful calibration is also critical: data needs to be collected across several ranges of emotions corresponding with each linear point on the scale. For example, if only two points are selected (positive vs negative), respondents may have difficulty accurately describing more nuanced feelings like ambivalence or mild satisfaction etc.