Solid STB Data Vital To Local Media Buys
The potential for set-top-box (STB) data to help buyers and sellers in the near term is greatest in local markets, as opposed to national programming, according to an industry research consortium. Many local broadcasters view Nielsen data as limited and are eager to move swiftly in exploring how STB data can upgrade measurement in their DMAs.
STB-based metrics are not foolproof, but are "considered a vast improvement over the imperfect" system in place in local markets. The result: "local measurement should have a fairly short timeline for implementation and adoption, perhaps within the next year," according to a report from the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM).
CIMM did not elaborate on how wide deployment might be. While hurdles remain in STB data becoming a marketplace currency -- nationally and locally -- CIMM Managing Director Jane Clarke said a groundswell of interest across the 200-plus local markets should hasten deployment there.
"In the local area, we actually think that market is developing on its own ... we think that's going to work out as more data comes into the market," she said in a presentation unveiling the CIMM report, available on the group's Web site Wednesday.
The pressing need locally looks to be greatest in the Nielsen diary markets, where ratings come out only four times a year and rely -- at least partly -- on a viewer's dedication and memory. But there is also a hunger for STB data in bigger markets, where it could bring larger sample sizes; a measure of commercial ratings; and viewing levels in particular ZIP codes.
Charles Kennedy, a senior vice president at ABC, said deployment of STB data is important "even if it's just to spur Nielsen to do better ... competition tends to always bring out efficiencies and innovation."
Media companies, advertisers and agencies fund CIMM. Its report is intended to serve as a primer on the STB research landscape. The data offers the promise of second-by-second tracking of viewing patterns.
CIMM, however, noted that the data is far from a cure-all for frustrated local broadcasters. It does not gather data from homes without digital cable or that use over-the-air TV. In Milwaukee, for example, nearly one-quarter of homes in the top-50 market receive over-the-air reception, the report said.
There are also issues with the "complexity" in how ads are served locally, and CIMM said that "makes it difficult to ascribe viewing to specific ads." And STB data, for the most part, does not offer information on demographics, such as the gender and age of viewers watching.
Furthermore, STB data is voluminous and can be difficult for stations to process, marking "a major hurdle and barrier to entry," CIMM said. And while stations may complain that ratings are slow to come in Nielsen diary markets, STB data is not easily used on a daily basis. "Not overnight data -- there is a lag time," CIMM wrote.
Nielsen is looking to respond to local broadcasters' interest in STB metrics and has recently completed some data collection in a test. TiVo has had an STB-data product for some time, although it is unclear whether it has found any clients.
Rentrak appears to be having the most success in making the data part of local markets as it culls information from boxes owned by Dish Network, AT&T U-verse and Charter Communications. Gannett Television has purchased the Rentrak offering for its stations in Denver and Grand Rapids, Mich. The data could be particularly helpful in Grand Rapids, which is a diary market.
Gannett executive Tom Somers said it is frustrating that a new TV season launched last month, yet the ABC station in Grand Rapids doesn't have ratings for the new shows, in addition to some games with the thriving Michigan State football team.
The station could be selling spots at lower rates than it could command if, say, "Dancing with the Stars" is doing better this season than last year. Somers said Gannett is experimenting in both Rentrak markets on how to make the data part of negotiations. At the very least, it can provide guidance.
"It certainly gives you a way to go talk to advertisers that we didn't have before," Somers said. "That's positive for both the station and the advertiser ... this isn't an us-against-them kind of thing."
Janice Finkel-Greene, an executive vice president at Magna Global, said STB data is "giving us some insights we haven't had on a local level." She said Magna got a free trial with TiVo, but turned down a chance to buy the product, partly because the data comes just from TiVo households and may not be a representative sample. She said Magna is considering purchasing Rentrak, while Kantar is at least exploring a local product.
In its report, CIMM suggested STB data could allow buyers to better compare performance across the markets served by the three Nielsen measuring sticks: local people meters, set meters and diaries markets. Buyers could better compare performance between Los Angeles and Little Rock -- "it does offer consistent measurement."