Comcast, Rentrak to Track VOD Use

Comcast Corp. and Rentrak Corp. will test a new system to measure and report anonymous video-on-demand-usage data -- a first step toward gathering the ratings data ad-supported networks and cable companies crave to generate revenue for "free" VOD programming.

Comcast and Rentrak -- the latter of which is known for compiling data about movie box-office and home-video-rental revenue -- will start the trial in Philadelphia, home to Comcast’s largest VOD platform, in May, the two companies said.

Rentrak calls the system "VOD Essentials," saying that it trades on census-gathering information, rather than sampling.

Ken Papagan, executive vice president of new-business development and strategic planning at Rentrak, said the information-management company tested its program with an undisclosed Comcast system late last summer.

Papagan added that under the upcoming one-year trial with Comcast, VOD Essentials will be able to provide usage data anonymously and within 24 hours to the MSO about all of the content providers contributing to its VOD offerings in the Philadelphia market, encompassing movies, series, free-VOD content, subscription-VOD fare and on-demand advertising.

Down the road, the system could also collect digital-video-recorder data, he said.

"The idea is to help Comcast and other MSOs to better gauge what content to provide to their subscribers," Papagan said. "What interests people serviced through one headend might be vastly different than in another area."

Papagan noted that Rentrak has had ongoing dialogue with other cable operators about VOD Essentials. The company is also talking with programmers.

"We’re in discussions with content providers as we speak. Content providers have said they didn’t want to have to go through 100 different reports to find out what is or isn’t working in VOD," he added. "This universalized system is like the one used by the film industry: They can see one report and find out what’s performing."

Comcast officials couldn’t be reached for comment by press time.

During a Western Show panel in December, Comcast senior VP of marketing Andy Addis said the MSO was working with some content providers and a third-party measurement firm on a trial to begin in the first quarter of this year.

In February, Multichannel News reported that Rentrak was likely to be the measurement firm.

Other vendors -- including SeaChange International Inc. and Nielsen Media Research -- are also said to be working on VOD-measurement approaches.