The ESRC, ITC and Channel 4 funded project used a multi-method approach, combining quantitative and qualitative techniques to gather data and subsequent analysis of television audiences and popular factual programming in the UK. The main methods used were a quantitative survey, semi-structured focus groups and in-depth interviews, and the data was collected during a particular period in the development of the genre of popular factual television (2000-2001).
The first stage of research relied on industry analysis and visual analysis. I used available television guides to assess the scheduling of a range of factual entertainment across days, weeks, months and seasons. I analysed the form and content of selected popular factual programmes, obtaining copies of individual programmes and whole series by recording live programmes, and by requesting previously aired and to be aired programmes from production companies. I also consulted production companies on programmes in production, specifically Big Brother. This data allowed me to produce a comprehensive account of the range and type of programmes available to viewers at particular times, and to gauge which categories of popular factual television viewers would be familiar with during the main data collection period (autumn 2000-summer 2001). The data also allowed me to navigate my way through the wide range of programming, charting existing subgenres (infotainment and docu-soaps), and responding to new developments within the genre (reality gameshows).
The second stage in the audience research involved a national survey of audience preferences for, and attitudes to, factual entertainment in the UK. This survey was funded by the Independent Television Commission (ITC), and the ITC were consulted on the design of the survey, which contained a series of closed questions relating to audience preferences for form, content, subgenres, and use of multimedia, and audience attitudes towards issues of privacy, information, and entertainment in popular factual programming. The survey was a self-completion questionnaire, and was distributed by the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) to a representative sample of 8,216 adults (aged 16-65+) and 937