Demand Grows for Better VOD Measurement

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New York— Video-on-demand measurement is beginning to improve, but some industry players remain at odds over the best way to track the number of subscribers watching programming in that fashion.

“The notion of tracking at a census level is quite urgent,” Rentrak Corp. executive vice president Ken Papagan told attendees at a Kagan panel here last week.

GIVE HOME NUMBERS

Papagan insisted that the best way to measure VOD is to supply advertisers with the exact number of homes that watch a particular VOD program. The approach by Rentrak — which supplies its VOD-measurement system to Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co., and Cablevision Systems Corp. — is different than the sampling approach that Nielsen Media Research relies on to track linear-TV viewing.

Nielsen plans to integrate data from VOD and digital video recorder viewing collected from digital set-tops next year, but the research firm will maintain its sampling approach to measurement, senior vice president Scott Brown said on the panel addressing VOD advertising opportunities.

“We’re not by any means abandoning the sampling approach to measurement,” Brown said.

Nielsen may integrate data from digital set-tops with ratings from its existing panels of several thousand homes, but the ratings firm won’t simply lump information from millions of cable homes with numbers generated from Nielsen homes.

“We’re very interested. We think there’s a future for it — we think integrated panels are a distinct possibility,” Brown said, noting that Nielsen would take sub-samples from digital-cable homes.

Next year, Nielsen plans to begin integrating data on VOD viewing into its weekly ratings report, but Brown said the initial information will aggregate VOD views with linear-TV ratings. The group won’t be able to differentiate between VOD and linear viewing until MSOs add codes to VOD content, Brown said, adding that Nielsen is working with companies such as Tanberg Television and SeaChange International Inc. to license its audio-watermarking technology.

At this point, the number of cable homes that use VOD remains a mystery outside of Rentrak and MSO circles since cable operators have yet to release reports that detail the total residences that watch individual VOD programs.

Responding to a question from a reporter, Comcast Spotlight president Charlie Thurston said the reason Comcast and other operators haven’t detailed VOD data publicly is that the industry wants to come up with standards on how it would release the information.

“There’s no conspiracy here. We love information,” Thurston said.

Executives from Turner Broadcasting Sales and Rainbow Media Holdings’ Mag Rack said VOD is beginning to drive more ad revenue, but that improved measurement would boost sales.

“The holy grail here is audience measurement,” Mag Rack general manager Dan Ronayne said, adding that the on-demand service expects to generate significant ad revenue by the middle of 2006.

UPFRONT PARTICIPATION

Turner vice president of multimedia marketing Chris Pizzurro said 30% to 40% of advertisers that cut upfront deals with programmer’s networks for the 2005-06 TV season bought “some form of digital media” in the form of VOD or broadband Internet ads, up from 5% to 10% in last year’s upfront.

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