Throughout January, PBS has been test piloting three science programs on channels across the country and via streaming video online at their Web site. According to PBS mag Current, one pilot is a spin-off of Wired magazine, another a "Science Investigators" version of PBS' popular "History Investigators" series, and the third a futurist "22nd Century" program.

In combination with these pilots, PBS rolled out focus group and national survey project to monitor responses among the "innovative and inclined" segment of their audience. Doing this type of "real time" research as part of the content development process is increasingly important, as the public with almost infinite media choices continue to narrowly segment themselves into smaller and more hard to reach niche audiences. In fact, this trend will be the focus of a talk I will be giving this week here in DC at the Center for Social Media's Making Your Documentary Matter conference. More details to come.

Here's what Current reports:
Some of the feedback will be highly detailed: PBS has commissioned minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings for each of the pilot broadcasts. CPB, meanwhile, is fielding two studies over the next several months. The first, already underway, includes in-depth interviews with viewers who fit the profile of "innovating and inclined" viewers. Researchers from City Square Associates, which led earlier phases of the primetime research project, will be talking with viewers in five cities about their lifestyles.

"This will give us a multi-dimensional understanding of who are the viewers who are likely to fall into the segment called 'innovating and inclined," said Terry Bryant, CPB v.p. of media strategies.

In January, City Square continues the qualitative study, asking focus group participants in five cities what they mean when they say they'd like more science programs. The focus groups will include, but won't be limited to, "innovating and inclined" viewers, Bryant said.

CPB also recently solicited proposals for a quantitative study that will coincide with the pilot broadcasts. "The goal is to be as close to the real-time pilot testing as possible with a national probability sampling that is truly projectable across the entire adult public television viewing population," Bryant said.

"I think what we're learning is going to have implications beyond a new science series," Bryant said. "We are creating a lot of new working knowledge about primetime viewing and have learned that there are lots of applications for it if we do a good job of telling the story and sharing the learning."