Easy As 123, ABC Adds 5 Remaining O&Os To Rentrak: Cites 'Accuracy, Transparency, Competition'

Citing greater accuracy and transparency as well as competition in the local TV audience measurement marketplace, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC Owned Television Stations Group this morning announced that all of its owned-and-operated TV stations are now subscribing to Rentrak’s local TV audience ratings.

ABC was the first major station group to sign with Rentrak, initially licensing its data for three of its stations -- KGO (San Francisco), KTRK (Houston) and KFSN (Fresno) -- in 2012, and is now adding its five other owned stations: WABC (New York), KABC (Los Angeles), WLS (Chicago), WPVI (Philadelphia) and WTVD (Raleigh-Durham).

In the interim, the three other major broadcast network-owned station group owners -- CBS, NBC and Fox -- have also cut local TV ratings deals with Rentrak, and earlier this year, Fox became the closest to severing ties with Nielsen altogether -- before signing an 11th-hour deal to renew a long-term contract with Nielsen. Terms of that renewal were not disclosed, but Fox implied it involved both concessions on contract pricing, as well as improvements in Nielsen’s local TV audience measurement methods.

Last week Nielsen announced new details of a major expansion of its local audience measurement panel, including the deployment of many new metered TV households, as part of its effort to improve local audience measurement. But sources familiar with Nielsen’s ratings contracts say such deals normally include clauses that allow Nielsen to increase the rates it charges based on increases in sample households, so at least part of the expansion of local TV ratings deals with Rentrak may be a hedge against Nielsen’s cost inflation.

One of the big methodological criticisms of Rentrak’s ratings is that they derive household viewing data from digital set-top devices and must model both the geographic and demographic representation of that data to determine coverage of TV markets and the composition of viewers in those households and markets. But last week, Nielsen also unveiled details of a controversial plan to begin modeling viewing estimates for nearly half its national sample during the 2014-15 TV season, although a decision to integrate that data -- part of what Nielsen describes as a major expansion of its national TV audience sample -- is contingent on clients reviewing “impact data” supplied by Nielsen.

But the push by Nielsen could give more stations, advertisers and agencies greater comfort with the notion of utilizing modeling techniques as the basis of TV audience ratings vs. an historic bias toward representative samples.

“We believe in providing our advertisers and agencies with the most accurate level of measurement,” ABC Owned Stations Group President Rebecca Campbell said in a statement announcing ABC’s expansion with Rentrak. “Partnering with Rentrak not only provides for greater transparency around our audiences, but also encourages greater competition in the marketplace and better measurement tools at the local level.”

She added that a big factor in ABC’s decision is that “Rentrak’s larger sample sizes, along with its automotive and political data, provide us with the information we need.”
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