Beyond :30

New models of television advertising.

The rapid evolution of digital media has brought about major change to consumer behavior, posing new challenges for marketing and advertising strategy. Even traditional media, like television, are forced to rethink and reinvent their roles in the new digital marketplace and prepare for more changes to come.

The Beyond Thirty Seconds (Beyond :30) research program was designed to meet these needs and to bring research-based knowledge to the marketplace. Over the past seven years, the project has conducted what is now, almost certainly, the world’s largest lab-based exploration of new advertising models for emerging media platforms. In many ways, it is the encyclopedia on advertising and the changing media landscape. With over $6 million in funding to date, over 10,000 test sessions have been conducted, resulting in over 5,000 pages of reports across 42 studies. Data for these studies are being collected at the world’s leading media research facilities, including the new Disney Media & Advertising Lab in Austin, CBS’s Television City in Las Vegas, and the Audience Labs in Australia. The project has incorporated a wide range of research measures including biometric measures (electrodermal activity [EDA] and heart rate), facial electromyography (EMG), video ethnography, and eye gaze.

The project is the gold standard for academic-industry collaboration. Every year, the project’s sponsors, who number among the world’s leading media networks, advertisers, platforms and technology enablers, gather to shape the project’s research agenda. The academic research team then applies highly rigorous standards to best investigate each study’s central questions. Findings are shared at regular briefings, where the practical implications of each study’s key insights are explored. Such insights shape industry practice and help inform future research questions; setting in motion an iterative process for learning.

The lab-based focus provides a unique opportunity to properly control for each of the variables being studied. This not only greatly enhances the confidence in each study’s findings, but helps to better tease out the range of factors in play; removing the guess-work form understanding why findings present as they do. This approach maximizes practical application of study insights. Moreover, because the research is based at a university, the highest ethical standards govern the research. Transparency is central to project culture; providing sponsors with full access to research measures and study limitations.

The project to date has been facilitated through two 3-year waves (2005-07 and 2008-10) across 42 studies. Currently, the project is embarking on its third wave, which will see the completion of another 18 studies between 2011 and 2013. A sample of the insights growing out of the project includes the following:

  • How do ads perform across TV, online, and mobile platforms? What factors best contribute to cross-platform integration? What are the relative strengths and limitations associated with each platform?
  • In an ever-growing universe of new ad models, which ones are most likely to succeed? What issues are associated with each of the new models?
  • Does addressability for television advertising work? If so, how do you maximize its potential?
  • What online video models are most effective? How do these compare to more traditional ad models?
  • What drives viewer ad avoidance? How can we best encourage ad viewing? What factors contribute to more/less effective advertising?

Project sponsors in the Second Wave included ABC, Best Buy, Capital One, CBS, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Discover Card, the Discovery Channel, Disney Destinations, ESPN, GM, Kelloggs, Kraft, Mars, Microsoft, MTV Networks, NBC, OpenTV, P&G, Rovi, Starcom MediaVest, Turner, Verizon, Warner Bros., Wal-Mart, and others.


The research is conducted by a world-class team of researchers with extensive experience in lab-based methods for studying media impact. The team is led by Dr Duane Varan, Executive Director of Audience Labs (formerly the Interactive Television Research Institute) at Murdoch University in Australia. Dr Varan is the recipient of numerous awards including the Australian Prime Minister’s Award for Outstanding University Teacher of the Year. He also serves as Chief Research Officer of the Disney Media & Advertising Lab in Austin, Texas. The remaining team at Audience Labs includes leading academics and an extensive support team of software programmers, content designers, and research assistants. In 2011, Dr Horst Stipp, former Senior Vice President, Strategic Insights and Innovation, NBC, joined the team as industry consultant to the project.

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