DEC 16, 2015
This year marks the 50th anniversary for 'A Charlie Brown Christmas', the beloved classic from Charles Schultz. The special premiered on CBS in 1965, resulting in a viewership of almost 50% of households in the United States - about 15 million homes. It's hard to imagine the holidays without it, but if the CBS officials had gotten their way, the show may not have ever aired.
Before airing on TV, the special was shown to CBS officials and focus groups. They thought it was too melancholy and the animation rough (the entire special was pulled together in three short months). The adult themes, characters voiced by children, and jazz music soundtrack were negatives in the eyes of the TV execs. 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' was further shown to the families of CBS leadership and they agreed - they didn't like it either.
Charles Schultz pushed for it to air as it was, and to much success. This perfectly illustrates the objectivity that one must use when reviewing market research. Sometimes market research results are misleading. Not to say that they should be ignored - they shouldn't. Careful examination of all research - quantitive and qualitative - is the best way to determine next steps in the marketplace. We believe market research should inform not dictate.
Another lesson learned here: holding focus groups with family and friends is a limited indicator, and not a best practice; it introduces a strong bias versus opinions from strangers who are more objective. Most times, family and friends' opinions are already influenced by the family members involved in the business, so they often will parrot those opinions. Had CBS shown this special to a more objective group representative of the marketplace, they may have been less surprised at its successful airing.
If you'd like to hear more, NPR covered the story behind 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' in a bit more depth. Please enjoy this 3-minute excerpt from their show.