News

Prepping for VOD Advertising

12/19/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

While programmers and advertisers receive detailed ratings reports daily from Nielsen Media Research that help them gauge whether they’re getting a bang for their advertising bucks, no such system exists for video-on-demand programming.

But as Comcast Corp. and other cable operators continue to aggregate more VOD programming — with a goal of eventually selling ads for VOD shows — MSOs are beginning to build systems that will enable them to give media buyers reports detailing how subscribers view their content.

Comcast and Insight Communications Co. have turned to Portland, Ore.-based Rentrak Corp., which has tracked theatrical, home video and gaming sales for years, to help the MSOs create VOD usage reports that can be shared with programmers and advertisers.

Rather than provide, as Nielsen does, sampling data that project how many viewers watch a program based on a panel of a few thousand metered households, Rentrak is looking to supply the operators with census-level data that details exactly how many cable subscribers watch a particular program.

“We think it’s essential in tracking on-demand, because on-demand is a transactional business. You can’t guess how many people are watching a movie — you have to count them,” says Rentrak executive vice president of strategic planning and business development Ken Papagan. Rentrak tracks VOD usage on every Insight system, and for Comcast, Rentrak provides reports on VOD viewing in Philadelphia and several other markets.

In the past six weeks, Rentrak has gone from processing 80,000 VOD transactions to close to 8 million weekly, according to Papagan.

Comcast Spotlight’s vice president of new business strategy, Warren Schlichting, says the MSO’s ad sales unit currently gives programmers VOD usage reports that track four metrics: the number of VOD-enabled households in a DMA; total views by program per month; the number of unique set-tops viewing a program by month; and the total minutes viewed by program per month.

Schlichting says Comcast is talking to other operators about coming up with a standard set of metrics that could be used to pitch advertisers. Those talks also include moving to what he called a “second stage” of metrics, which would include data on so-called “trick modes” that would detail whether viewers fast-forward through programming content and advertising.

“It has put the MSO in a role they’ve never been in before in terms of supplying data. And so we as MSOs need to have a unified field theory of on-demand data so that advertisers — when they see one of these four data points — say, 'I get it. I know exactly what that definition is,’ whether it’s Cox or Time Warner or Insight or [Comcast],” Schlichting says.

Nielsen officials have said they are developing a system that would eventually be able to track VOD viewing. Comcast executives say they will work with Nielsen to test the new system.

“Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, Nielsen is going to do what I call whole-house ratings, where they combine live viewing, VOD viewing, [digital video recorder] viewing and give you one rating for that house, regardless of the technology that the programming is delivered with,” says Comcast cable division president Steve Burke. “We’re working with Nielsen and doing some testing, and hopefully that is going to be something that comes to pass in months, not years.”

September