Starcom last week inked its first guaranteed upfront deal based on something other than Nielsen Media Research ratings. The deal, with Discovery Communications, will measure viewing of Discovery HD using set-top-box data.
The rate at which audiences are watching high-definition programming led to the deal between Starcom and Discovery.
The move allows Starcom to measure viewers of a channel that never had enough mass to show up on Nielsen’s sample-based system. The agency has been eager to ink deals with HD networks but has had no way to do so with any sort of audience guarantee.
“Those HD networks are growing very fast; the year-over-year increases are astounding,” said Chris Boothe, Starcom president-chief activation officer. “HD viewing of [Discovery’s] `Planet Earth’ increased the overall rating by 20 percent, and more and more clients are producing spots and video in HD.”
The move could signal the first step in an eventual migration to census-level TV viewing data, further enabled by a federal government mandate to complete the transition from analog to digital TV by 2009.
“About 50 percent of all TV audiences you can measure by using set-top-box data. Nielsen is now at about 12,000 people in their sample, using added technology, which is very expensive,” said Tracey Scheppach, VP-video innovations director at Starcom USA. “By 2009, everything will have a box. We’re talking about census; forget about samples.”
In the meantime, it’s likely agencies will use multiple data sources to strike deals with smaller, unrated networks. Already Starcom is using the second-by-second data internally to affect planning decisions.
TNS Media Research has deals with several cable and satellite companies, including 300,000 Charter households in California and 250,000 national DirecTV households. But TNS has a history of measuring this kind of data in Europe. It has measured near-census-level set-top-box data in the U.K. using data from BSkyB. Starcom is TNS’ first agency client for the data.