The set top box realm is clicking. I don't mean the zillions of streams daily. Rather every couple of weeks for the last few months another company - whether researcher, dataminer, technologist, manufacturer, and/or vested third party such as advertisers, advertising agencies and content providers - is jumping into the fray, or what one might have perceived months ago, frolicking with consensual strange bedfellows.
Some recent examples (chronologic order):
Set top box and video on demand measurement company Rentrak has announced that it will combine its STB data with data provider approval segmentation systems - both syndicated and those from advertisers that they use in their day to day business processes.
Middlewarer OpenTV unveiled plans to open up its TV measurement platform by publishing the format of key data points that its software is able to measure on the set top box to allow the developer community, data analysis partners and other service providers to integrate with its measurement solutions more easily and help foster the creation of next generation set top box services. Partners include AdsVantage, Nielsen, Rentrak and TNS.
Technologist NDS and TNS Media Research launching an opt-in audience measurement initiative that will track viewing patterns of individuals.
The formation of The Council For Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM), a new coalition whose members include advertisers, advertising agencies and content providers (AT&T, NBCU, Viacom, CBS, Disney, ESPN, WPP, Interpublic, Omnicom, Starcom, MediaVest, P&G and Unilever) whose mission is to develop set top measurement and cross platform measurement as well as provide guidance to start-up technologists and proffer introductions to industry players.
Digital Video Recorder TiVo's launch into a commercial ratings service (second by second) for three local markets.
The unveiling of Microsoft's Navic Reveal, a census based near real time measurement and reporting of TV program viewership.
Interactive TV program guide maker Rovi, formerly known as Macrovision, has joined forces with media measurement company TNS Media Research, to analyze TV viewer actions, including use of IPGs and reactions to IPG advertising.
The list of players invested or investing in this burgeoning arena is becoming legion: set top box clickstream data-ists (Navic Reveal, Nielsen Media Research, Rentrak, TiVo, TNS Media Research), cross industry collaboratives (Collaborative Alliance Set Top Box Think Tank, Council for Innovative Media Measurement, the Nielsen funded Council for Research Excellence), data driven TV buying platforms (Google TV Ads, Invidi, Microsoft's Navic Admira), dataminers (Acxiom, Allant, Experian), exotic flavored data analyzers (TiVo/Quantcast, TRA), predictive modelers (AdsVantage, Google TV Ads, Microsoft's Navic Admira), and technologists/manufacturers (NDS, OpenTV, Rovi and rumored BigBand and Motorola).
A renaissance of sorts for audience measurement.
My concern: as the industry mandarins squabble for hegemony within this expansive, fertile space - one that is necessary to prove the efficacy of TV advertising as well as evolve cross media televisual metrics (linear TV, broadband, mobile and all varieties of on demand) - they will promulgate both the promise and perils of set top box data in ways that obfuscate and mislead the community. Case in point: in late summer, a major research entity published some analytics comparing program viewership in digital cable homes versus satellite only households versus NPM sampling and the effect it would have on revenue generation. "Some examples from the '08-'09 season:
Cable networks would do much better in digital cable homes - with some networks getting a lift of 20+% in audiences The Fox broadcast network would do 4% better with digital cable only homes while CBS broadcast network would lose 6% of its audience Ratings for "Desperate Housewives" would be 12% higher with digital cable only homes but 6.5% lower with Satellite only homes - that is a swing of 18.5% for a single show Cable networks would benefit from using digital cable homes only - to the tune of $2.5 billion in additional ad revenue If C3 ratings estimates were based upon viewing only from digital cable homes, it would cost the broadcast networks approximately $340 million in ad revenue so far this season."
Is this sampled reporting suggesting that when pay TV operators approach potential customers and are able to sell through a subscription, the platform insists on a loyalty oath that prohibits viewing of certain channels by their subscriber - whether they be broadcast, cable, satellite or telco originated. Or more simply, that certain subscribers have a propensity to view certain types of programming given their channel availability, packages (analog, digital, double or triple play or quadruple bypass), premium services, broadband connectivity (speed or not), number and age of occupants in the households, household income, location (rural, suburban, urban), adoption of new technology (DVRs, high definition), interactive features... And these factors, coupled with contential desire, determine what they will watch, not the platform itself.
Applied mathematics whose applications are self serving will only hinder our understanding of the value of click stream data, the marriage of panel based metrics with STB analytics and myriad of other possible measurement combinations to bring more targeted value to the advertising community and greater satisfaction to the consumer.