Q&A: Charter’s Jim Heneghan

Charter Communications has agreed to sell information it collects about the viewing preferences of 330,000 of its Los Angeles area customers to Nielsen Co. Nielsen will market the reports to ad agencies and advertisers, with Charter earning a cut from their sale. Charter is already supplying similar information to TNS. Although some privacy groups have concerns about the deals, Charter executives have stressed that the MSO will only provide data in an anonymous form to prevent Nielsen from identifying the personal information or identity of any individual Charter customer. Similarly, all Nielsen reports will contain only anonymous and aggregated data: It’s the first time that census-level tuning data and panel-based people meter viewing data will be combined to produce expanded household and demographic reporting from a local television market.

Charter senior VP of advertising sales Jim Heneghan discussed the deal and how Charter’s local ad sales staff will be able to use the information to sell local schedules. Advertisers are demanding more specific information from TV programmers to match the type of click-stream data available on Internet advertising, Heneghan said. An edited transcript follows:

Q: How did you settle on the Los Angeles Market for this arrangement?

A: We have the requisite software in the set-top boxes to gather tuning data and consumers in the Los Angeles area love television.

Q: Can your local ad sales reps use the information that’s gathered? How will it help them sell local spots?

A: Yes, local reps will have data about networks that doesn’t appear in Nielsen ratings -- information that reps can share with clients which lends support for buying deeper in insertable lineups. As operators insert more on HD channels -- again, no measurement from Nielsen -- this info will help buying decisions.

Q: How does the TNS relationship differ and how have you used that information?

A: It does not differ -- we have utilized that information to help national agencies and programmers understand tuning behavior.

Q: Why eschew VOD and DVR usage?

A: These products are in the development pipeline, but not available today through the software installed.

Q: Charter has already learned that there is a big drop-off in viewing during commercial breaks. What do you do with that information?

A: We have not learned that there is a big drop-off in tuning during commercial breaks. We have seen some modest blips. 

Q: What other viewing patterns have emerged since launching the TNS relationship and how do you expect Nielsen data to differ?

A: We have seen consistent “dwell” time. Tuning has not switched demonstrably when we look at less than 10 seconds or more than 10 second reporting.

Q: Why choose the same market? Why not choose another part of the country?

A: It’s the only market where we have the requisite software to obtain the information at this time.

Q: You have mentioned your desire to expand this relationship to other markets. Taking out the technological hurdles that exist today (S-A boxes include the Navic software necessary to pick up this data today while Motorola is working on including such software with its recent acquisition of Invidi Technologies), where would you launch this service next? How many markets do you expect to launch this service in? 

A: We’ll look at other sizeable Charter markets, but we don’t have a specific timetable for launches.