By providing third-party tracking of mobile TV viewership, the idea is to give programmers and marketers and agencies a better picture of the nascent medium to inform ad sales and media-buying efforts. The research will be offered as part of Rentrak's TV Essentials report, which calculates second-by-second viewing data for TV shows and advertising on 10 million set-top boxes.
"What this represents is the first time a mobile video provider will have a standardized measurement system which they can use to provide a currency to sell advertising to marketers for mobile content in linear form," according to Ken Papagan, president and chief strategy officer at Rentrak.
To date, FLO TV -- a Qualcomm subsidiary that offers 20 channels of live and time-shifted programming from broadcast and cable networks including CBS, NBC and ESPN -- has revealed little about its viewership through carrier partners such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
And for now at least, only its content and carrier partners and advertisers will be privy to detailed audience data through the alliance with Rentrak.
Lately, however, FLO TV has begun volunteering more information about broad usage patterns. It has indicated that viewership spikes 30% during lunchtime -- from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. -- as mobile subscribers catch up on the previous night's episode of "The Letterman Show" or watch live sports programming. The average user spends about 25 minutes on FLO TV throughout the day.
"Even more interesting to me is that we're seeing mobile prime time extended over a far longer period of time than comparable time in (traditional) linear TV," said Jonathan Barzilay, senior vice president, programming and advertising for FLO TV. "Viewership remains high until 11 at night."
Overall, about 13 million Americans watch mobile TV -- up 52% from a year ago, according to Nielsen's recent Three Screen Report. Still, that amounts to roughly just 6% of all U.S. cell phone subscribers. Barzilay acknowledges that mobile TV is still at an early stage, but believes its deal with Rentrak will help pave the way for ad-supported models in the category.
"This data will help us provide more and more useful information for how advertisers can reach audiences outside the home," he said.
For his part, Phuc Truong, U.S. managing director of Mobext, the mobile marketing arm of Havas Digital, said the new service from FLO TV and Rentrak would be especially helpful if it could provide more insight into cross-media behavior. "The real value to me as a potential advertiser is in tracking a user's mobile viewership and overlaying it with their TV consumption," he said. That way, for instance, he could see whether someone's mobile viewing was actually expanding a program's audience rather than cannibalizing it.
Rentrak's Papagan indicated that the company's overarching goal was to be able to help clients make such comparisons across all media. "This moves Rentrak closer to a suite of products integrated for all screens that any given provider might display content on," he said.
The company already offers a separate mobile-tracking service for which NBC Universal is the first client. "We're aggregating all different forms of mobile data that NBC Universal receives from different carriers and messaging and other providers so NBCU Mobile can understand what content and how much is being consumed on the mobile platform," said Papagan.