VOD Standards: Industry Primed to Make It Count

Feb 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The cable industry counts no fewer than five associations working on the issue of measurement for on-demand viewing. At first blush the sheer number of players involved seems excessive. But Sean Cunningham, president of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, said measurement is the single most important issue facing the video-on-demand business this year.

“Audience delivery, performance, verification, auditing, measurement–those self-evident tools have to be laid down,” he said. “The absence of those tools is going to impede what should be fantastic growth in this sector. That’s why everyone is obsessive [about] getting this done the right way.”

The “everyone” he speaks of includes a mouthful of acronyms. The organizations that have established groups, committees or initiatives to work on metrics for on-demand viewing and advertising are CTAM, through its On-Demand Consortium; the American Association of Advertising Agencies, through its advanced TV committee; the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, through its CAB-OD group (OD stands for “on-demand”); nonprofit consulting group DiMA (Digital Media & Advertising), through its ID!A (Innovation in Digital Advertising) group; and the Association of National Advertisers, through its enhanced TV task force.

VOD advertising is a green-field area, with no standard ad formats or methods of measurement at this time. Originally built as a movie service, VOD is now essentially being retrofitted for ads. The VOD business model that has emerged over the past year for basic cable programmers is ad-supported, and usage information is the ratings currency needed to keep the platform healthy.

Still, some industry insiders questioned whether these groups’ efforts are necessary. “Nothing has been accomplished so far, so maybe we are going about it the wrong way,” said Mitch Oscar, executive VP of Carat Digital, a media agency division focusing on digital platforms.

Mr. Oscar, who serves on the AAAA’s advanced TV committee, said he’s not expecting operators to release much more VOD data until advertisers begin spending more money in general on local cable. “Let’s fine-tune and show we are working together and in our media plans show we are considering local cable and VOD more,” he said.

But Tim Hanlon, senior VP and director of emerging contacts at Starcom and chair of the AAAA’s advanced TV committee, said his committee favors a more proactive approach. “There are dollars available to spend in on-demand media environments by advertisers. The problem is that unless progress is made in terms of accurate measurement of that video … those dollars won’t come the networks’ way, or anyone’s way who is offering VOD,” he said.

While the overarching goal for each of the groups is roughly the same when it comes to measuring on-demand viewing, the groups differ in their individual focus, said Channing Dawson, senior VP of emerging media for Scripps Networks and co-chair of the CTAM consortium.

To be sure, there’s a fair degree of overlap in membership. Many of the groups’ executives work in parallel and share information with each other. As the CAB-OD group seeks to bridge the gap between operators and programmers, it also works with the AAAA on its laundry list of on-demand needs, CAB’s Mr. Cunningham said. In turn, according to Mr. Hanlon, the AAAA works in partnership with the other associations.

“I think by the end of the year you will find a major change in perceptions of data,” said Page Thompson, co-chair of CTAM’s consortium and general manager for VOD at Comcast. “I think on-demand will be one of the best-measured and most reliable types of advertising you can find.”

The data that will be provided includes the number of VOD-enabled set-top boxes by market, program views per month, the number of set-tops ordering content and total minutes viewed. While most of these figures are available today, better reporting will allow operators to compile them more efficiently.

On-demand measurement software firm Rentrak is involved to varying degrees with each of the different groups. Keeping up with so many groups can be challenging, said Cathy Hetzel, a senior VP at Rentrak. “Yet you are afraid if you don’t go you will miss something. If direction is being set and your business is highly dependent on that direction, you want to make sure you have input.”

Ms. Hetzel said she expects this year to bring “mergers” among the various groups. “I think the groups are trying to find their niche, and it will probably take this year to sort them out. Some of them will combine or focus on entirely different directions,” she said.