DirecTV, TNS Strike Digital Set-Top Ratings Deal, May Commercialize Service

Global research giant TNS Wednesday announced a deal to create an audience measurement service based on satellite TV provider DirecTV's subscribers, marking the biggest player yet in the U.K.-based company's plans to create a new U.S. ratings system of derived from data from a census of digital TV set-top boxes.

DirecTV, which has more than 15.5 million subscribers, initially will allow TNS Media Research to create a panel of data based on 250,000 subscribers that will track all of their TV viewing behavior anonymously on a second-by-second basis. The deal does not include data about TiVo usage from DirecTV households that also subscribe to that digital video recorder service, but TNS is moving aggressively to strike similar deals with other digital set-top providers, including other satellite companies and major cable TV operators.

"The end goal is to build a digital measurement service that we bring into the marketplace," says George Shababb, COO, TNS Media Research, and the executive who is leading the initiative.



Initially, TNS will be producing the new ratings exclusively for DirecTV's own use, but Shababb notes that the satellite TV operator will be sharing that data with its advertising clients and program suppliers.

As such, the deal is similar to others that TNS has been striking in an effort to make cable and satellite operators comfortable with aggregating and analyzing anonymous subscriber data with an eye toward deploying commercialized ratings services that can be purchased by third parties in the open market. To date, TNS has deployed only one commercialized service in the U.S. based on a panel of 150,000 digital cable subscribers on Charter Communications' systems in Los Angeles. That service has been active since June, and Shababb says TNS already has several outside clients for it. He declined to disclose their identities--but said they were all programming services, and no advertisers or agencies have signed up yet.

Meanwhile, he says, TNS' strategy is to work with TV operators to get them to feel comfortable producing digital set-top ratings internally in the hopes that they will ultimately agree to create commercialized services in their coverage areas--or even better, allow the data to be pooled into a national U.S. digital set-top census.

That's a similar plan being developed by erinMedia, the fledgling ratings service launched by Florida real estate tycoon Frank Maggio, who is also suing ratings giant Nielsen Media Research on the grounds that its business practices are creating market barriers for new competitors.

Nielsen also is working with some digital set-top operators, including Comcast Corp. and TiVo, and is in discussions with others.

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