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CRE Releases Set-Top Box White Paper

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Untapping the potential of set-top-box (STB) data will not be easy nor quick, according to a just-completed STB white paper from the Council for Research Excellence released Tuesday (March 9). The study, a yearlong endeavor, concluded that only through broad industry collaboration would the industry realize the benefits of STB data.

The Nielsen-funded CRE, an independent group of media, agency and advertiser researchers, is one of several industry groups trying to get a handle on how STB data can help provide a better understanding of TV viewing behavior. The recently formed Council for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) has also made STB data a top priority.

Getting industry cooperation to advance the use of STB data could be tougher than sorting out what STB is being provided and how it should be reported. Though broad in scope, the CRE's STB study was limited by the type of participants involved. Out of 30 companies invited to participate, only 15 participated. Notably absent from the study were the companies that own the data, the cable MSOs, DirecTV and AT&T. Of the data owners, only TiVo and Cox Communications, agreed to participate. With the exception of Nielsen and TiVo, most of the research firms selling STB data services also declined to participate including Rentrak, TRA, and Kantar Media Research (formerly TNS Media Research).

Despite the limited participation, the study spells out the challenges the industry must overcome to mine STB data, which promises near census-like samples and second-by-second viewing data. A major hurdle is lack of uniformity in the processing and reporting of STB services provided today by the research companies. Certain types of data are also not available, including viewer demographics and data usage of external devices such as game consoles, DVDs, DVRs and VCRs.

"This is an important first step. The results show that although we are on the road to realizing the full potential of the STB as an audience measurement device, there still are speed bumps over which we must navigate," said Pat Liguori, chair of the CRE's set-top box committee and svp of research for ABC Television Stations. "We now realize that more information about STBs is needed, though, as a result of this study, we are better equipped to ask the right questions and understand what data is relevant."

The STB Study is the second major study released by the CRE, which has received more than $10 million from Nielsen. Last year, the CRE unveiled the results of the groundbreaking, $3.5 million Video Mapping Study that provided a benchmark of consumer media behavior.

Related: Cracking the STB Code (only accessible through paid subscription)