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Warner Bros. Discovery leverages research communities to identify trends and make business decisions

Written by Alida

Published March 09, 2023

WBD uses panels to narrow down trends with highest potential to identify key opportunities for growth


Succession. The Last of Us. Mare of Easttown. Searching for Italy. The Batman. Elvis. Warner Bros. Discovery’s ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the entertainment market is no accident.

WBD utilizes their insight communities —or as they call them, panels— to run research that brings to light major trends in viewership. The media powerhouse maintains eight panels representative of their core audience. One of the panels has 120,000 members.

Every year, the customer insights specialists at WBD embark on an extensive trend study in which they leverage their communities to identify 12 to 16 trends in media that seem most relevant to the business but require refinement.

Before they had panels, the previous incarnation of WBD would spend around US$135,000 on a simple questionnaire (are you aware that this trend exists? Have you observed this trend in your day-to-day life? Have you adopted this trend?) There was no certainty that the trends identified in these studies were reflective of the general population.

Once the panels were established (calibrated according to the audiences across their business units), WBD customer insight specialists decided to field the trend questionnaire within their communities.

Worth mentioning, not all trends are equally useful. If the trends identified are already fully adopted, there’s no differentiation opportunity; if they’re barely on the radar, that’s too incipient and won’t help you create new behaviors. The WBD customer insight specialists are looking for that sweet spot in the middle, the ones that have legs from a consumer’s perspective. 


Refining trends

It would take a lot of time and money to validate these trends externally, so the insights team would go back to the panels with additional questions for a select number of subscribers. Panels allow for research at a very scalable size. If each of the WBD business units were to conduct their own trend research, their budget would be gone almost instantly.

After narrowing down the identifiable trends to the ones worth pursuing, the customer insights specialists use panels again to align said trends with the appropriate business unit. Because the panels reflect WBD audiences end-to-end and across all platforms, they can also give a sense of who a trend is for through ancillary questions, whether it’s scalable across the entire business, or if it’s something worth tying to a particular business unit. Perhaps even provide an idea of how the opportunity looks like.

Panels’ feedback also allows WBD to prioritize and even help the company innovate. Because the community members have an attachment to the brand, customer insights specialists know that given the opportunity to drive the business forward, they would contribute.


Research community best practices

Engage the panel: Sporadic surveys are not enough to build deep engagement and a sense of community. To strengthen ties, WBD embeds a hub into the panel so members can access new release trailers, business units’ social feeds, etc. The intention is to create a virtual space for the panelists to engage and interact with the brand.

Deliver unique branded member experiences: The consumer insights specialists at WBD had to integrate eight separate feeds from six business units into a single backend to generate unified data. While this took place behind the scenes, the insights team preserved the uniquely themed hubs for the panelists, merged communities when applicable, and created a master-type community to run cross-panel research.

Use your panel for more than evaluations: Communities can be used in deeper, strategic studies, such as narrowing down trends. Panels can also guide implementation, in addition to measurement and evaluation. It’s worth remembering that panels also provide an opportunity to have an in-depth relationship with people committed to your brand.

Knowledgeable panels mean shorthand: Go straight to the heart of what you’re trying to achieve without spending resources on preambles and contextual information.


In the research world, iteration is a luxury, given the limited time and resources available. In WBD, insights is more than about ideas: they need to drive value for the business. Panels enable the specialists to do just that: unpack a problem until reaching a concrete solution.