Don't throw away those bland commercials, roughly targeted TV media plans, and general wishful thinking: Set-top-box data ain't what it appears.
Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBC Universal Television Group -- and one of the chief motivators for the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement -- said the data in those set-top boxes is actually hard to figure out.
Why? Because those boxes aren't like Nielsen TV set-top boxes, apparently. Cable set-top boxes weren't designed to grab audience viewership data, engagement, or emotion. They were just designed to tell cable engineers that that box was "on" -- no more, no less.
All this makes sense when it comes to entertainment and even consumer technology, where the intent of what is originally developed goes in a different direction in its life span. The VCR was going to eliminate the need for TV schedules and programmers in the 1980s; that didn't happen. Though one could make a case the DVR has, for sure. Mobile phones? Seems teens use them to text more than talk.
Big national advertisers and media agencies have clamored for set-top-box data for years -- cable operators, less so. Cable operators yawned over this stuff: local cable viewership, usage, and even local advertising revenues. That's because they were happy enough getting high cable subscriber fees, and then big fees from landline phone, mobile, and Internet services.
Finally cable operators were convinced they had an untapped gold mine in set-top-box data, which would be the key to big advertising dollars. You could find out not only which men and women watched ABC's "Modern Family" -- but whether those viewers also drank a lot of Pepsi, bought Purina pet food, or had two-year contracts with T-Mobile.
But that blue marketing sky is now turning grey.
Maybe set-top-box data problems can be worked out eventually. But whatever it is, the holy ground of census data of 90 million TV homes will probably evolve into something else. With any luck, it'll still be something marketers can use.