Nielsen, Charter in Set-Top Box Deal

NEW YORK The Nielsen Co. has struck a deal with Charter Communications to analyze set-top box data from 330,000 homes in the Los Angeles area, the parties said today.

Nielsen has similar agreements with other undisclosed MSOs but the Charter deal goes a step further in that it licenses the ratings company to also create ratings reports from the data that it can then sell to clients. Nielsen said such reports would be available to clients starting in the second quarter of 2008. Adweek is a unit of Nielsen.

Charter struck a similar deal in November 2006 with Nielsen competitor TNS Media Research, which sells reports based on the Charter set-top box data to clients via a syndicated package it calls TotalView. Publicis Groupe’s Starcom was the first media agency to sign up and other buyers and sellers of TV time have signed up since then.

Set-top box viewing data has attracted a lot of interest from agencies and their clients who are looking for more detailed analyses about the TV viewing patterns of the consumers they reach with ads. Set-top box data has the potential to offer more detail because it offers a second-by-second look at how viewers watch, as opposed to the minute-by-minute view offered by the current Nielsen national ratings service.

One shortcoming of the set-top box data is that it does not provide the demographic data that the Nielsen ratings provide, although various companies including TNS, TiVo, Google and Nielsen itself are looking at developing algorithms and other techniques that could apply demographic estimates to the set-top numbers.

Nielsen said that initially it would use the Charter data to give clients a clearer look at the performance of smaller digital networks as well as viewing high-definition signals. Currently, high-definition viewing and standard-definition viewing are calculated as a single measurement in the Nielsen ratings. Nielsen will also do comparisons of the second-by-second commercial ratings data from the Charter set-top box homes to its average commercial minute TV ratings, which are now considered the primary industry currency for buying and selling ads.

Nielsen also said its research would for the first time compare and combine local market census-level tuning data and panel-based people meter viewing data. In the future, a Nielsen rep said, the company would consider linking the set-top box data to marketing and purchasing data analyzed by other Nielsen units such as ACNielsen’s Homescan service to make correlations between product purchases and TV viewing.

“Charter is committed to improving the precision of local market measurement,” said Jim Heneghan, Charter svp, ad sales, in a statement. “By working with Nielsen, we are ensuring that our advertiser and agency clients get the most reliable data possible to evaluate their media buys.”

“At a time of rapid technological change in the television industry, Nielsen is inventing new ways to measure how people watch television,” said Jed Meyer, svp, Nielsen DigitalPlus, in a statement. “Through these studies, we will provide Charter with new insights on the consumption of all digital video.  At the same time, we will be investigating the potential of digital set-top boxes and the data they generate to enhance our existing audience measurement services.”