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CIMM Harnessing Set-Top-Box Data

The television industry is eager to get at the treasure trove of information that set-top-box data could provide, but Jane Clarke, managing director of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, is finding that it is taking longer than expected to unlock.

Utilizing set-top-box data is one of the two areas of media measurement that CIMM was set up last year to push forward. The other is cross-platform measurement.

The obstacles to putting set-top data to use are formidable. For one, the cable operators who own most of the data are legally bound to protect their customers' privacy. At the same time, those operators see this data as the basis of a business and want to make sure they're not missing a chance to monetize an important asset.

The users of this data haven't quite decided how much of it they'll need and what to use it for. But they know they want it yesterday. "There are so many things you can do with set-top-box data," says Clarke, who joined CIMM six months ago. "It's not just media measurement. There are advanced advertising opportunities, and the granularity is so attractive to so many different people at agencies and at advertisers, and there is the potential to match databases and do return- on-investment analyses. There are many ways that this data could really grow the business, so there are a lot of reasons to make this work."

CIMM's 22 members-media companies, media agencies and advertisers-aren't exactly patient with The Nielsen Co. and other companies that currently provide audience measurement.

"That's why they joined CIMM. They want to accelerate the pace of media measurement, and they're trying to get these companies to move a little faster," Clarke points outs. "They're being patient, but they think the role of CIMM is to be impatient and try to push it along as fast as we can."

Speaking the same language
While data from most cable operators' set-top boxes hasn't yet begun to flow, CIMM has taken some steps to get the industry ready for when it does. The group's first project was to create a lexicon of terms so that the 30 or so companies working in the field could speak the same language. "There are more than 800 terms in here," Clarke points out. "The good thing about it was that it enabled us to go around and talk to all those companies listed there, and even some others that didn't want their name mentioned."

In the works now is another round of interviews designed to find out exactly what the end users want once the data is available.

One of the issues that will be addressed is how much set-top-box data the industry wants: a complete census of viewing information from boxes in all 100 million-plus cable homes, or some smaller sample. "People are still trying to think about that," Clarke says. "It's a little different if you're using it for addressable advertising or advanced advertising than if you're using it for measurement. I think, obviously, if it's addressable advertising, they want a census, they want the ability to target every household. If it's for media measurement purposes, you probably could live with less, especially on a national basis.

"When you're in a local market, there's a good reason to get all the data that you can," she adds. "I think those are questions the industry really needs to work out because there are cost-benefit tradeoff s here. There's a cost to getting all this data out. There are business models from the data owners where they're expecting to receive licensing fees for this data."

Some data due by year-end
The project will result in a white paper. After the paper is released in late September, Clarke is hopeful that CIMM will be able to make some data from the cable operators available later this year. "I wouldn't say that it will be as thorough as everyone will want. I think there could be some test this year," she says. "It will be another year or two before you really get the quantity of data the industry wants that will really make it more robust."

In addition to CIMM, there are other entities looking to utilize set-top-box data. Clarke says she wants to work with them.

One is Nielsen. When CIMM was formed, it was seen as a prod, if not an alternative, to Nielsen. "The industry always likes to do a little bit of Nielsenbashing, but they've participated in both of our initiatives," Clarke says. Nielsen has also made a proposal for a cross-platform measurement test. "We're keeping an open door. I get along well with them. I've worked with them for years," she adds.

Also in the mix is Canoe Ventures, set up by the major cable operators to develop an industry standard for interactive advertising and data management.

"We consider them a partner. They're not a member of CIMM, but we've been talking to them about collaborating on different projects," Clarke says. "They represent the cable operators, the owners of the data, and we represent the end users, the customers of the data. So, I think there are ways it is helpful for us to come together as they're doing the technical side and the business side of developing the systems, and the business and the standards to support this."

Much More Than Linear TV

Researchers are paying much more attention to TV viewing outside the home, which is very widespread in venues like airports and bars, according to Arbitron. They're also tracking on-demand viewing. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that VOD revenues should hit nearly $4.3 billion in 2014, up from $2.8 billion this year.
-George Winslow

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.