MTV Looks Beyond Standard Ratings With TRA Pact

In another sign that the TV industry is looking beyond traditional age and sex ratings to buy and sell TV time, MTV Networks has signed with TRA, which offers a research service that links TV ratings to product purchase behavior.

The agreement covers TRA data for all MTVN channels such as MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, TV Land, Spike and Nickelodeon.

TRA launched its hybrid ratings service in 2007. Its second-by-second estimates are based on data from 1.5 million set-top-box households and product purchase data from 54 million households participating in shopper loyalty programs to create a single source panel of 370,000 households.

Since launching, TRA has signed about a dozen clients, most notably CBS and MediaVest, which began experimenting with buys based on TRA during last year’s upfront. Earlier this month, GroupM became the second major agency to sign with TRA.

The ability to target TV ads based on viewers’ purchasing behavior has been in the works for years. But those attempts, from Arbitron’s ScanAmerica in the ’80s to Project Apollo, a joint venture between Arbitron and Nielsen, were both pricey and impractical. TRA takes advantage of current technology to help marketers target audiences that buy their products or are likely to buy their products.

TRA provides a way for MTV’s networks to avoid being pigeonholed by demographic. “Adding the layer of the purchase data is really going to differentiate the kinds of audiences and consumers we have across each of our brands compared to other channels,” said Colleen Fahey Rush, evp, strategic insights and research for MTVN. “Our viewers are purchasing across a whole spectrum of categories. We want to show advertisers and agencies that our viewers put their money on the counter.”

It’s too early to tell if MTV will use TRA’s data in the upfront, but it will be talking to agencies about how TRA data might be used in planning and buying. “It allows us to open up a compelling discussion,” Fahey Rush said.

“I’m surprised [more of the] selling side doesn’t embrace this kind of solution more. It can help them prove the value they bring to our clients’ business. You don’t get that from Nielsen data,” said David Shiffman, evp, connections research and analytics for MediaVest.

MediaVest, which has been analyzing TRA data for a year, is integrating some of the findings into its optimization and planning systems. While it’s still early in the TV season, MediaVest’s Shiffman is having conversations with select clients to gaueg how to take TRA data to market in this year’s upfront.

“We continue to think TRA offers a tremendous solution for understanding how to make the most of the TV investment,” Shiffman said. “In some of our cases, we saw heavy users drive return on investment 30 percent higher than the average person.”

Now that TRA has a year’s worth of national single-source data, the adoption tipping point may not be far off, making it easier for advertisers to track how their TV advertising investment impacts sales.

“With a full year of data, we have the historical trend and we can build the analysis,” Shiffman said.

TRA has a head start on Nielsen, which in December formed a joint venture with Catalina Marketing to combine Catalina’s 50 million shopper database with Nielsen’s national TV and online panels. The service is expected to launch in the first half of this year.

“[The Nielsen Catalina joint venture] is a great validation of what we’re doing,” said Bob Meyers, president and chief operating officer of TRA. “This is about momentum. The more buyers and sellers that are using [TRA], the more valuable it is.”