Whiting: Nielsen Eyeing Set-Top Data, VOD

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Nielsen Media Research is working with several large MSOs -- namely Time Warner Cable and Comcast Corp. -- to explore gathering viewership data off set-tops and to track video-on-demand usage, the rating service’s chief said Wednesday.

In an address to Nielsen’s national clients at the company’s meeting in Miami, CEO Susan Whiting also urged her customers to speak out against any federal regulation of TV ratings. Don’t Count Us Out -- a coalition of African-American and Hispanic groups backed by News Corp. -- and several lawmakers have asked the Federal Trade Commission to get involved in the TV-ratings process.

During her speech, Whiting said Nielsen is working with Time Warner to improve its measurement, looking into collecting viewing information directly off cable set-tops. It would be one way for Nielsen to expand its sample size.

“Time Warner and Nielsen have enjoyed a close relationship for many years,” she said. “That relationship has recently expanded and now includes collaborative set-top-box-development work with Time Warner Cable to pursue advanced measurement techniques over and above traditional metering approaches by Nielsen.”

Whiting also described several previously announced Nielsen initiatives aimed at helping the company to get a handle on VOD and digital-video-recorder usage.

“Brian Roberts, the CEO of Comcast, has very recently made some important announcements about the directions his company is taking with regard to VOD, as well as DVRs,” Whiting said. “We have been working closely with Comcast, as well as many others. That puts us in a strong position to move forward.”

Whiting was referring to Roberts’ recent remarks at the American Association of Advertising Agencies meeting, where he said Comcast will release monthly VOD-usage data from Rentrak Corp. to advertisers and programmers starting in April.

Nielsen is continuing to try to improve the quality of its national sample, in part by adding 2,000 households throughout the country, according to Whiting.

In February, the ratings service unveiled a game plan to try to improve its measurement and accelerate the tracking of on-demand viewing -- steps that included delaying the start date to report viewing data from DVR households in its national sample. Nielsen said it needs time to add “same-day” ratings as a third stream of DVR data.

At the client meeting, Whiting also said Nielsen installed its first “Active/Passive Meter” home March 3 in Fort Myers, Fla. The A/P Meter is a set meter that tracks what show is airing on a TV set, and it will be linked with Nielsen’s “People Meters.”

In arguing against federal intervention regarding ratings, Whiting said, “We think FTC or any government regulatory oversight is a bad idea for all of us. But we need your help in speaking out on this issue.”

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