Research to Forefront

Sep 19, 2005  •  Post A Comment

At least five companies are vying for the lead role in the measurement of new media, but there’s reason to believe more than one contender will have starring roles when the dust finally settles.

Rentrak, Everstream, erinMedia, TNS and stalwart Nielsen offer means to measure interactive TV, video-on-demand, digital video recorder viewing, traditional linear viewing and, in some cases, all of the above. Ultimately, they seek the same thing-to be recognized by the advertisers who support new platforms.

Advertisers know they must find new ways to understand consumer viewing habits, said Mitch Oscar, executive VP of digital for Carat. “Just as we are experimenting with deployment of new technology, these [companies] are trying to develop technologies to figure out how we watch TV, and that’s the one thing agencies no longer know,” he said. “We have no idea how people watch television.”

That information “black hole,” created in 1999 by the birth of the DVR, has brought about an environment in which research vendors are flourishing, because media agencies desperately need statistics upon which to base decisions. “We don’t have any companies yet who have claimed the crown in measuring digital media in the on-demand universe. I don’t know in this fragmented universe if we could have a dominant player, or if we should,” Mr. Oscar said.

That also means new media may break Nielsen’s longtime hegemonic hold on ratings. While Nielsen will certainly be a player in the new media space, fragmentation seems to demand multiple information sources, senior media researchers said.

Here’s an overview of what each research vendor has to offer.

Nielsen currently measures DVR viewing for most local markets and will add national DVR reporting starting in January. That data will include playback information for live viewing, live plus same-day playback and live plus seven days’ playback. “The ad community can get a snapshot of what the audience looks like,” said Scott Brown, senior VP of strategic relations for technology and marketing at Nielsen.

Later next year Nielsen will add VOD reporting, delineating viewership of specific VOD titles coupled with demographic information. The DVR and VOD viewing data will be integrated with Nielsen’s traditional linear ratings.

Census or Sample?

erinMedia, which shed its air of secrecy earlier this summer with its antitrust lawsuit against Nielsen, has now garnered quite a bit of attention for its different approach to viewer measurement. The firm measures set-top box data from cable, satellite and telephone service providers on a census rather than sample basis to report linear and non-linear viewing, said erinMedia President Frank Foster. The company then provides an analysis of that data to advertising agencies and cable operators. While set-top box data does not include demographics, Mr. Foster said erinMedia uses “inverse mathematics” to infer the relationship between demographics and television audience behavior.

In a VOD world, erinMedia data could include, for example, how viewers of CNN on-demand differ from CNN linear viewers or what viewers of FX’s “Rescue Me” watch on-demand.

The company has conducted trials with Time Warner, Comcast and other cable operators, and is now preparing for actual deployment with various operators in six markets beginning six to nine months from now, Mr. Foster said.

Rentrak has steadily encroached into the cable business with its VOD measurement tools and now measures 53 percent of VOD viewing through its relationships with Comcast, Cablevision, Charter, Bresnan and Insight, said Ken Papagan, executive VP of Rentrak. The company collects census data, measuring individual VOD interactions by extracting the data from VOD servers. Rentrak then sells a view of the cable operator’s data to broadcast and cable networks that want to know how their programs fared.

To date, Rentrak is providing the four data points that cable operators have agreed to share with advertisers-total views, unique set-top boxes, average duration and share of the set-top box universe. But the company has access to much more data that it will share when cablers give the OK, such as the demographic composition of a particular VOD program or the impact VOD viewing has on linear viewing, and vice versa. Rentrak also plans to measure DVR viewership.

TNS Trial in Hawaii

Another company seeking a berth in new media measurement is United Kingdom-based TNS, which already provides sample-based audience measurement in 70 countries, including China, Canada and Spain. TNS is seeking to expand into the United States and began a trial with Oceanic Time Warner Cable in Hawaii late last year to measure more than 200,000 homes on a census basis.

George Shababb, chief operating officer for TNS Media Research in New York, said his next goal is to add a sample in Hawaii so TNS can layer demographic information from the sample with the deeper census data and report on all aspects of viewing behavior, including linear, VOD, interactive program guides and interactive TV.

Everstream comes into measurement through the back door. By providing enterprise VOD solutions for cable operators, Everstream has access to vast storehouses of viewership data. MSO customers including Time Warner and Cox that use Everstream can access detailed data on VOD viewing habits.

“We do reports based on storage and usage of assets, like which movies are giving you the best [return on investment],” said Stephen McHale, CEO of Everstream, which is being acquired by VOD server maker Concurrent. Under the new deal, Everstream will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary.

Everstream can also report top-ranking titles, providers and networks, detail how titles perform in different markets and analyze whether users fast-forwarded, rewound or paused VOD content, he said. The company will add DVR reporting next year.

Mr. McHale doesn’t view Everstream as a direct competitor to the other measurement firms because Everstream serves cable operators, who can then decide whether to share that data with advertisers and programmers.

Aquantive’s Atlas on Demand also plans to introduce measurement tools to advertising agencies next year that will help with media planning, buying and trafficking of VOD ads as well as analytics on whether ads were watched.

Despite the plethora of research vendors, media researchers don’t expect a shakeout anytime soon.

Media is becoming so complex and fragmented that there will likely be a need for several ways to understand new media, said Richard Fielding, VP and director of insights and analytics at Starcom. Nielsen, with its national footprint, market access and demographic data, could serve as the entity that paints the national picture, while the Rentraks and erinMedias of the world serve up the detailed local and regional information on specific viewing patterns, he said.

“As buys become more targeted, apart from certain consumer packaged goods clients, that’s where the set-top box and more interactive measurements come into play,” Mr. Fielding said.

Filling the Void

The problem is that nobody is operating between Nielsen’s sweeping view and the grass-roots perspectives the newer entrants offer, said David Ernst, executive VP and director of futures and technology for Initiative. “There is tremendous opportunity for research vendors to fill that void, and I think over time, as these mediums mature, you will see a lot of progress made to try to bring these two areas together,” he said.

But given the paucity of data today, agencies have to take matters into their own hands. Initiative, for one, conducts regular customized surveys on VOD viewing and other areas so it can better understand consumers’ TV habits, Mr. Ernst said.

Turner has taken a similar approach. Turner built its own software system that uses raw VOD data from Time Warner and Rentrak data from Comcast to produce an overall snapshot for
advertisers of how Turner VOD content is performing, said Chris Pizzurro, VP of multimedia marketing at Turner.

Today programmers are effectively cobbling together pieces of data from various sources to draw conclusions. But simple business logic dictates that over time companies tend to merge or consolidate, and that is likely to happen in the measurement field, Mr. Pizzurro said.

Until then, Rentrak is exploring partnerships. Mr. Papagan said he’s talking to other research vendors about starting a market trial next year that would use data from more than one research vendor to produce a unified report for advertisers and programmers.

Even so, anyone in the measurement business at some point must face the full complexity of Nielsen’s position in the TV market, Mr. Fielding said. “The erinMedia lawsuit against Nielsen is one of the more high-profile examples of how this is heating up,” he said.