Are Focus Group Facilities Dead?

“No more viewing studios. Clients can either come out from behind the mirror, or not attend groups at all,” says Andy Cooper in a recent online issue of research. His article, “Hear me out: Let’s get rid of viewing studios” argues that viewing clients too often use it as a crutch. He says viewing groups is not worth giving up an evening of “The Apprentice.” Mr. Cooper seems to believe that viewing studios (focus group facilities in the United States) are unnecessary and actually can be counter-productive. Why not just shut them down?

Since October is Conference month, I have spent a lot of time discussing the fate of focus group facilities recently. As online qualitative research has exploded, researchers are beginning to wonder about the fate of the facility with the mirrored window. Most people, including me, believe that qualitative research will grow.  However, with the proliferation of online qualitative research techniques and the new-found freedom researchers have to conduct qualitative research online have led to valid questions about in-facility research.

My personal opinion is that qualitative research will grow as a percent of total research spending. However, I believe the bulletin board focus group, webcam focus group, mobile qualitative research and other techniques will draw significant share of the work traditionally sent to facilities. Therefore, the facility business has matured and is not likely to grow significantly.

Are focus group facilities dead? I don’t think so. But I don’t see them growing significantly as a category.  Also, though I sympathize with Mr. Cooper’s desire to get clients out from behind the mirror, the method is helpful–and a well-run, interesting focus group sure beats a night with “The Apprentice.”

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