Should Operators Sell Set-Top Box Data?

For years now, advertisers and networks have hungered for pay-TV operators’ set-top-box (STB) data. For good reason. The argument can easily be made its sturdier information than a Nielsen sample.

Yes, there are drawbacks. Hurdles come with attaching demographic information to who’s watching in a home and there can be hiccups if the box is left on, but no one is watching.  

But one could argue the guessing is less with return-path data. At the very least, the data can be a superb complement to the Nielsen information. Rentrak has built a growing business with STB data and Nielsen is employing it in its local-market measurement. Other businesses are growing with it, too.

Of course, companies like Rentrak, Nielsen and others rely on operators to sell them the data. Without the likes of Charter and DirecTV, their ability to develop products would be challenging.

But are operators making a mistake in selling it?

Perhaps. Rentrak is in good shape, inking a long-term exclusive deal to get data from Dish Network as the satellite operator has a stake in the company. Other operators may have long-term deals as well, including DirecTV making data available to Kantar.



But if not, should DirecTV continue to provide the return-path information to Kantar? Only if it’s collecting a pretty penny.

As DirecTV CEO Mike White continues to complain about the escalating costs of carrying networks -- particularly sports outlets -- if the company keeps the data to itself, it may be able to gain a leg up in negotiations with networks with information about how many people are actually watching. Operators are less concerned about demographics and more about which homes have the box on.

Why would DirecTV want to give a network an opportunity to acquire data that might put it on more of an equal footing when negotiating a carriage deal? If it's true, Comcast and Time Warner Cable aren't selling data, they may be onto something.

2 comments about "Should Operators Sell Set-Top Box Data?".
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  1. Charlene Weisler from Writer, Media Consultant:, February 25, 2013 at 10:48 p.m.

    Interesting article David. There are many reasons why MVPDs do not currently make their RPD available for sale. For some it is a privacy issue. For some it is a business decision as there is a cost associated with gathering and storing the data. Hopefully these are short term challenges that will soon be overcome. More details can be found on the CIMM website in their Initiative/RPD data section.

  2. Philip Moore from Philip Moore, February 26, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.

    Here's where we are headed.

    Advertisers share household or zip-level sales performance data with the ad planning/buying agency who also has STB data at the HH or ZIP level. Direct correlations between "viewed" commercials and sales are used to optimize creative execution and placement (which networks, which show, even what pod placement has the best ROI for the specific product or service being advertised). As an advertiser, the only relevance of Nielsen ratings becomes how much more or less everyone else is paying for the placements that work for me. Once all the advertisers adopt the new paradigm, we get a more symbiotic relationship where market forces push the kind of advertising that works into the shows where the audience is most receptive. This is the Big Data story that results in increased value for both the producer and the consumer of television content.

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