STB Data as Ad Currency?

While set-top-box audience viewing data is a hot topic these days, it’s not likely to become a currency for buying and selling national broadcast ads anytime soon, according to an in-depth industry survey from the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement set for release tomorrow.

That said, CIMM found that local broadcasters believe the data would be a vast improvement over the ratings currently provided by Nielsen to measure audiences in their markets.

The study is based on 85 confidential interviews with executives from various industry sectors, including the main originators of the data (cable, satellite and telco video programming distributors), data processors and software vendors, networks and other programmers, agencies and advertisers, trade groups and hardware manufacturers.

Jane Clarke, managing director of CIMM, said the survey found a “range of attitudes” about the viability of STB data, also known as return path data. Generally speaking, said Clarke, for many networks, the promise of STB data, “doesn’t match the reality.”

Charles Kennedy, svp, ABC Television Research, agreed. “We feel that we have a national measurement system that works,” he said of Nielsen’s C3 ratings service that measures average commercial audiences within programs including three days of DVR playback.

But local measurement is a different story, said Kennedy, noting that in some markets, Nielsen sample sizes are an issue and STB data might be an improvement.

For example, he noted that several weeks back, crime drama Detroit 1-8-7, which has been the second-most-watched show in the Tuesday 10 p.m. slot, received a zero rating among men 18-34 in the Washington, D.C., market. But STBs could detect viewing within that D.C. demo, Kennedy asserted. That’s because of the 300-400 viewers in Nielsen’s D.C. panel, fewer than 10 were men 18 to 34; many more STBs are located in the market than Nielsen meters, he said.

Not surprisingly, the study found that third-party data processors are “highly enthusiastic” about the prospect of wide spread use of STB data, because it could provide a potential business boost for them.

Executives at cable systems, where most STBs are located, have concerns and are moving slowly. According to Clarke, privacy issues — and Washington’s response to them — are a big concern. And the cable systems continue to wrestle with business models and are still trying determine potential revenue opportunities. “Value has to be demonstrated,” she said.

Where STB data could be highly effective in the near term, the report concludes, is when it is linked to other large industry databases that track behavior, like Experian, and could be used “as a direct marketing tool with revenue producing capabilities.”