Companies bet on Vegas for market research

Sin City visitors provide input for product development, TV programming

— Linda Pulido never expected to spend her Las Vegas trip helping decide who'd be the next anchor on a morning television news show.

But she found herself being asked who was hot, and who was not, at CBS Television City, part of the network's market research operations at the MGM Grand hotel.

"I'd do it again," she said. "It makes you feel like maybe your little opinion might mean something and might count to some big corporation somewhere."

With an estimated 36 million tourists a year, Las Vegas is becoming the city of choice for market researchers to gather consumer opinions on everything from pizza to diapers, and television shows to commercials.

"That's what drives this industry," said Lee Medick, president and owner of MRCGroup Research Institute. "Companies make million-dollar decisions based on what people think."

Finding out what people think is an industry that generates an estimated $6.1 billion annually. Dollars spent on market research have grown steadily since 1991 except for dips in 1996 and 2001, said Larry Gold, editor and publisher of Inside Research, a Chicago-based industry newsletter.

Medick and her husband, Jim, MRCGroup's chief executive officer and managing director, moved their 10-year-old company to Las Vegas in 1996, Jim Medick said. They found few similar companies and a virtually untapped source of consumer opinion.

Using Las Vegas as a haven for market research makes sense, said Nancy Costopulos of the Chicago-based American Marketing Assn.

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AP Photo

Researcher Maria Marino waits for passers-by at CBS Television City facility in the MGM Grand hotel-casino in Las Vegas. With an estimated 36 million tourists a year, the city is a breeding ground for consumer opinion.

"People go to Las Vegas for a reason, and that's usually to be entertained," she said. "So by testing people who are there seeking entertainment, you have a steady stream of consumers who are right for your test market."

The city's fast-growing population and broad appeal to tourists bring together a cross-section of the country. Analysts say it's a fresh test market in which consumers haven't been surveyed as much as those in Los Angeles or New York.

CBS set up a temporary test site 10 years ago and decided to stay. Last year the network opened Television City, a permanent site in the MGM Grand in which consumer critics like Pulido can screen new television shows and movies and participate in focus groups.

The diversity found in Las Vegas was a big draw, said David Poltrack, CBS executive vice president of research and programming.

"It's something you can't do anywhere else but Vegas because of all the demographics," he said.

Viewers receive coupons good for 10 percent off CBS merchandise and other freebies, as well as an opportunity to help change television programming.

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