Officials at server supplier SeaChange International Inc. last week said they're working with Nielsen Media Research to develop a ratings system for video-on-demand content.
SeaChange already supplies cable-operator customers with software they can use to generate VOD usage reports. But those reports have generally only been used internally by MSOs — such as Comcast Corp., which wants to see basic-cable programmers earn extra ad revenue for the content the MSO offers for free to VOD subscribers — and shared with their VOD content suppliers.
SeaChange hopes partnering with Nielsen will allow it to generate substantive VOD ratings reports, and that Nielsen's reputation within the advertising community will help generate VOD ad sales, director of product marketing Bruce Kasrel said.
"Because we're working with Nielsen and the leaders in VOD servers, we're now creating a foundation from which operators can speak to their advertising and agency contacts in a language they understand," Kasrel said.
Nielsen officials didn't return calls last week. In a prepared statement, Nielsen senior vice president of strategic relationships, marketing and technology Scott Brown said, "With major MSOs rapidly implementing VOD technology, this is a natural area for Nielsen reporting."
One of the biggest challenges Nielsen and SeaChange face is figuring out how much data to share with advertisers. SeaChange's system can monitor everything from buy-rates to how long a subscriber watches a particular VOD stream, but executives said advertisers could be confused if presented with too much data.
"We want to make sure we're talking to advertisers about VOD in terms that they understand — we shouldn't be talking to them about clicks and streams," said Bev Doughty, senior vice president of marketing at VOD distributor TVN Entertainment.
Doughty is a member of a consortium that Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing formed last year to study issues related to on-demand content, including the need to come up with a ratings system for VOD programming.
CTAM vice president of marketing Tania Mennes Jones said the consortium — which includes cable operators, programmers and technology vendors — wants the cable industry to avoid problems it has had with Madison Avenue in convincing advertisers of the merits of basic cable compared to broadcast media.
"They [the consortium members] don't want that to happen with on-demand," Jones said.
Kasrel said SeaChange and Nielsen still haven't determined exactly what kind of data will be included in the ratings reports. He said they're talking to cable operators about the issue, and that SeaChange is also working with CTAM's on-demand consortium to gain feedback on what data should be tracked.
MSOs currently supply basic VOD usage data to programmers. Doughty said TVN gets reports from Charter Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co., Comcast Corp., Mediacom Communications Corp., RCN Corp. and Adelphia Communications that contain data on the number of buys each TVN title gets, per system and per MSO.
Doughty said it would also be useful if MSOs supplied data on specific times of day and days of the week that buys are generated in addition to how long a subscriber watches a VOD program; whether the subscriber skips the commercials; and how the subscriber uses the interactive program guide.
"Knowing how long a customer is actually on a piece of content is important," Doughty said.
Comcast, which was the first MSO to deploy a free VOD tier, could be one target for a VOD ratings product from SeaChange and Nielsen.
"As video-on-demand continues to grow, we recognize the importance of accurately measuring viewership, and we're working with other industry leaders to continue to explorer potential solutions that would accurately measure viewership," a Comcast spokeswoman said last week." But she said it was premature for the MSO to comment on possible rollouts.
SeaChange isn't the only interactive-TV player working with Nielsen on developing new ratings systems for digital-cable systems.
In April 2001, Nielsen signed a partnership deal with Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., in which the two companies agreed to develop products generated with the data captured by Gemstar's interactive program guide.
Gemstar and Nielsen haven't announced any deployments or trials since they signed that agreement two years ago, but are expected to make a product announcement soon.
Nielsen has also talked to SeaChange rival nCUBE Corp., but no customers have requested that the vendor add Nielsen ratings to its VOD system, spokeswoman Helen Chung said.