Measurement takes centre stage at CRTC Let’s Talk

Numeris and Rentrak on the timelines, potential and pitfalls of bringing set-top box measurement to the market.
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Discussion around set-top box data took centre stage yesterday morning at the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV hearing, with Numeris and Rentrak both presenting their take on bringing set-top box (STB) measurement to Canada.

Set-top box data would provide information like the length and time of viewing, the geographic location of the viewer, the features being watched and whether the channels were being viewed in HD or not.

Jim MacLeod, president and CEO of Numeris, told the panel that the organization hadn’t been considering the addition of STB data much until the CRTC asked it delve into the issue, adding that it is still in the process of developing the “deep daily relationships” with cable companies that are necessary to learn the business before starting the process.

Numeris currently conducts PPM and diary measurement across Canada, and MacLeod said it would be possible to add STB measurement to those numbers. Prior Let’s Talk TV presentations made note of the fact that despite the information it can provide, STB data could not tell if there was anyone watching a TV that was turned on. To take some of that guess work out of STB, like how many people are watching a TV, MacLeod said Numeris could combine those numbers with a probability-based panel, working within privacy requirements.

MacLeod estimates it would take between 18 and 24 months to get a new STB system off the ground, basing that number off of the time it took Numeris (formerly BBM Canada) to bring other new technologies to market. He added that it would likely move more quickly without a working group to implement the process, allowing the industry to work out the quirks.

Coming up shortly after Numeris was US-based measurement company Rentrak, which measures audiences in linear, DVR and video-on-demand environments and operates in 36 countries globally. It currently provides measurement for Rogers’ VOD services in Canada and is also in negotiations with the other major Canadian BDUs to provide similar services.

Rentrak advocated in favour of a set-top box measurement system. The company was also in favour of the committee proposed in the working document to make sure all voices were heard, but added that BDUs should provide test data to that committee to make discussions based on fact, instead of opinion.

Unlike the survey-style measurement that Numeris does, Rentrak is measuring audiences in the US based on census through set-top boxes. This can provide information on shows with smaller audiences than PPM and diary meausurement with enough scale to be statistically accurate, says Bill Livek, CEO at Rentrak

“Audiences only have value if you can describe who those people are,” he said in response to a question about the service it could bring to smaller and niche broadcasters. “These small shows still have audiences with product consumption characteristics, but you can’t practically metre that many homes in a survey system.”

When asked about why Rentrak hadn’t moved into Canada yet, as there was no regulatory roadblock preventing it from doing so, Livek said that measurement was a not-for-profit venture in Canada, but added that getting all BDUs on board would make it a small-margin venture that could be commercially viable.

Livek also pointed to the company’s track record in the US when asked about how successful it has been with small companies in the past.

“Before Rentrak, these smaller companies had to commission studies no one believed,” he said. “When we came in with the objective of serving both large and small audiences and serving advertisers so they can become more efficient, [advertisers] found it easier to work within smaller ecosystems.”

Livek said that Rentrak would be open to working with Numeris in Canada.

When asked how long it would take the company to set up their system, Livek said that it would take six months from the date it was given sample data from BDUs, with another twelve months to tweak its algorithms to match the Canadian marketplace and discover the differences between BDUs to have truly reliable data.

Similar to the problem posed to Numeris, Livek conceded that there was no way of knowing if anyone was watching while the box and TV were on, but said that they are able to measure when a viewer switches away from a program during commercials and when ads are skipped during shows recorded on a DVR. When the vice-chair suggested that programs with smaller ratings could have ad retention equal to more widely-watched programs, both Livek and Cathy Hetzel, corporate president at Rentrak, agreed.

With files from Val Maloney