Rentrak Deal Offers Juice For Set-Top-Box Data Advocates

Advertisers questing after more set-top-box (STB) data with Nielsen partly reversing a decision to use the detailed information look to have some fuel thanks to a new deal between Rentrak and DirecTV. The arrangement will give Rentrak access to second-by-second data from 1 million DirecTV homes to expand its national and local TV measurement products.

Making the multi-year deal particularly interesting is DirecTV agreed to sell the data directly to Rentrak. Kantar Media has marketed a product culling data from a lesser 100,000 DirecTV homes for some time. 



Needless to say, Rentrak’s deal is non-exclusive, unlike one it signed a year ago with Dish Network, the other major satellite operator. There, in an agreement involving Dish taking a stake in Rentrak, it gained exclusive access to its STB information through 2016. 

With the exception of Charter Communications, large cable operators apparently have been far less willing to sell access to their STB – or more accurately return-path -- data. One reason may be priorities. It’s difficult to build systems to process the data and present it in usable form. There are also privacy issues that actually might have become more pointed in the wake of the NSA scandal.

Another reason? Maybe a degree of selfishness. As the Time Warner Cable-CBS dispute bringing station blackouts shows, battles over carriage fees can take on an increased degree of contentiousness.

Distributors can use their own STB data to gain detailed insight into how much a particular station or cable network is viewed by their customers. That, in turn, can help them determine its worth and how likely consumers are to switch operators during a blackout. Why risk programmers being able to conduct some similar sort of analysis?

“It gives us much greater insight in terms of the value of a particular channel or piece of content, and we’ve been able to get real clarity on whether we should pay (a requested) rate … " former AT&T content chief Jeff Weber said recently. “It’s been very beneficial for us in terms of the decisions we’ve made.”

To a degree, Rentrak may be hoping for more heated disputes involving the retransmission consent payments Time Warner Cable and CBS are fighting over. The measurement company believes parties involved in the disputes are more likely to come to it now that it has the DirecTV data.

Over time, the DirecTV addition -- covering some 5% of its homes -- will expand the database Rentrak uses to makes its projections on viewing levels from 12 million to 13 million homes. But perhaps more importantly is the expanded reach the satellite operator's data offers.

With both DirecTV and Dish Network, Rentrak will have access to viewing information from at least two sources in practically every zip code in the country, helping with its algorithms and extrapolations that yield its ratings.  

“The more tightly you can hone those projection models … the greater value the customer sees with more stable and more predictable ratings,” Rentrak CEO Bill Livek said this week on an earnings call.

While Rentrak has had some success marketing its STB-based measurement service to national cable channels -- it just announced deals with Scripps Networks Interactive and the Weather Channel -- its major growth has been on the local level. Clients include 231 stations in 54 markets. Among the customers are the ABC-owned stations and Belo and Gannett, which after their planned combination would have a combined nine stations receiving Rentrak data.  

The Rentrak-DirecTV deal comes as Nielsen has reversed course and abandoned plans to use STB data in the 55 largest markets as part its new local-market measurement system with the challenge of producing overnight ratings. Rentrak doesn’t offer overnight data either.

Still, using data from DirecTV and Charter, Nielsen plans to use STB data in as many 155 diary markets, which could give broadcasters more confidence in ratings accuracy than just using the seemingly antediluvian diaries alone.

Besides the two satellite operators and Charter, Rentrak culls STB data from AT&T, regional cable operator Midcontinent Communications and FourthWall Media, which operates in the interactive TV space.

Of the DirecTV deal, Livek said it’s “another logical step” in his company's efforts to collect data from as many operators as possible. The company says it’s in discussions with several more providers. Deals with a Comcast or Time Warner Cable would be unexpected anytime soon. Then again, the DirecTV deal was surprising in the cocooned business of STB data acquisition.  

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