Subscription video-on-demand services such as Netflix, and social media platforms, have been two of the fastest-growing areas of video consumption in recent years. And, as often happens with much-hyped technologies, they’ve also been a bear to measure.
This is a particularly disruptive problem for program suppliers. They get some data from SVOD providers about the usage of their own programs but have little sense of how other programs are doing, which makes it difficult to maximize the value of their content during negotiations for distribution deals or even renewals for the production of Netflix originals.
“The problem is that [Netflix] can strip out all watermarking [so a program can’t be identified] unless the content partner makes it part of the deal, and Netflix has the upper hand in those negotiations,” said Jane Clarke, CEO and managing director of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, an industry-wide group that is focused on finding new technologies and approaches for measuring TV and cross-platform video.
Newer router meter technologies and automatic content recognition systems are starting find a way around those limitations.
Router meters track all the Internet traffic going through a home’s connection. The meters can be either a device attached to the router or something built into a router that then replaces the one typically given by the Internet service provider.
Those systems have been around for a while but are now getting much more attention among major research companies such as comScore and Nielsen as a way to gain deeper insight into cross-media video usage.
Nielsen, for example, is planning to add a device that will operate much like a router meter to its TV panel of about 40,000 homes by the end of 2016, said Kelly Abcarian, senior VP, global watch product leadership at Nielsen. The exact timing will depend on getting the system accredited by the Media Rating Council.
Some SVOD viewing data is already available, however. The current system, which was introduced in March, uses an audio content recognition system capable of identifying about 4,000 episodes from 1,200 programs. That system is providing data on those programs on TV sets to about 20 clients.
Currently, Nielsen can’t determine which SVOD service ran the program but some clients are able to figure that out by matching the viewing to the distribution of their fare on Netflix, Amazon Prime and other services.
“We are already providing some insight to clients,” and will be able to expand that in 2016 in several ways, Abcarian said.
Existing TV meters are able to detect which device—Roku, Apple TV, Xbox, etc.— delivered the content and in April 2016, Nielsen will start delivering that information to its clients, which will give them more insight into SVOD viewing.
Over time, the number of shows the system will be able to ID will also grow significantly.
Nielsen doesn’t use the term “router meter” for its technology, but the device they plan to add to their existing TV meters in 2016 will work like one. It will provide data on Internet traffic, which would allow them to directly say whether the show aired on Netflix or another provider.
“We are able to provide much more granular information and are getting some very positive feedback,” Abcarian said.
An early deployment of this technology came three years ago when Google partnered with the French audience measurement giant Médiamétrie to deploy Google-developed router meters as part of Médiamétrie’s four-screen measurement efforts.
A Google spokesperson noted that the company has since deployed the technologies in opt-in panels in a number of markets, including the U.S. where it was used by NBC for the 2012 Olympics.
In France, the router meter has been installed in homes that are part of Médiamétrie’s panel. Panelists must log on to the Internet via the router’s WiFi connection, which lets them track Web traffic, said Julien Rosanvallon, managing director TV audience measurement at Médiamétrie, and Laurent Battais, the company’s executive director in charge of performance and cross-media and senior VP of Eurodata TV Worldwide.
“One of the challenges of four-screen measurement is to be able to measure all the data and usage with the same panel and system,” said Rosanvallon. “One of the advantages of the router solution is that the panel member doesn’t change….It isn’t very intrusive and it allows us to capture all the devices with the same measurement and currency. The router solution is a key asset for four-screen measurement.”
That means Médiamétrie can track video usage across TVs, PCs, smartphones and tablets and issue some groundbreaking data on cross-platform video usage.
But the system has some important limitations. It can tell when a user is logging into an SVOD provider such as Netflix, or a social media provider, within the home, but it can’t measure individual programs. That’s because Netflix, Facebook and other SVOD and social media platforms use the encrypted HTTPS rather than regular HTTP.
To overcome that the company is hoping to work with SVOD providers to insert tags into the programming, but Battais admitted this “isn’t easy.”
KIDS ACROSS PLATFORMS
A pilot project between RealityMine and CIMM to measure cross-platform video usage by kids and teens provides a way around that problem.
For that project, RealityMine is setting up a panel of 500 homes, replacing their existing router with the company’s router meter.
Like the Google meter, this router meter can track all the Internet usage in a home. But it also has audio content recognition technologies built into the system so it can ID programs and ads sent over the secure HTTPS sites used by Netflix and Facebook, said Rolfe Swinton, RealityMine’s chief research officer.
In addition to Netflix viewing, “It gives you the ads and social media viewing,” he said. “There is a surprising amount of content being viewed through Facebook. These are non-trivial channels of consumption.”
This audio recognition capability is also a key feature of Nielsen’s plans.
But Swinton and others stress that the router meters aren’t a magic bullet. “The router meter is a piece of the big puzzle in how you measure all the digital activity in and out of a home,” Swinton said. “But it takes a set of technologies to do that. No one piece gives you everything.”
For the CIMM Children and Teens’ Measurement project, RealityMine is equipping members of the panel with meters on their laptops, smartphones and tablets so they can track viewing outside the home. They will also be using TiVo Research TV data.
The router meter will help with in-home usage and provide data on usage from apps such as Netflix that are on the TiVo box, smart TV or game console.
Once all of the data from the various sources is collected, it will then have to be “de-duplicated” and cleaned up so that usage isn’t being counted twice. Unit developers are also experimenting with facial recognition technology so the usage can be associated with an individual person.
Most important, software has to be put in place so that it can be analyzed and “turned into something that is instantly actionable,” Swinton said.
“The router meter is an important part of cross-platform measurement but it is just one part,” Swinton said. “You have to have all of these things working together.”
That also requires extensive engineering resources and backend systems, which are costly. “One of our single biggest costs is our server costs for just dealing with and processing all the data in the cloud,” he said.
Even though the router meter is designed to be installed by the panelists, setting up these panels can be costly. Sending out the hardware and providing support for its installation and use can run $1,000-$2,000 per home per year.
It is also an open question as to how large the panels using the router meter would need to be, Clarke said. Will the 40,000-member Nielsen panel be enough given the fragmentation of the SVOD programming landscape, or will even larger panels comprised of 200,000 or more homes be necessary, she wonders. As with all technology, time and development will tell.