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Stations ‘Rent’ Ratings Service With Eye to Buy

Ratings service Rentrak has slowly but surely built a substantial client base in the station world, giving local TV a new perspective on who is watching its shows. Raycom’s WBTV Charlotte and WBRC Birmingham recently signed up for the service, on the heels of deals with stations owned by Journal Broadcast Group, Meredith and Gray.

Eight months after inking the first deal for its set-top-box-based StationView Essentials, Rentrak is poised to announce two more stations coming on board— giving it 44 stations in 25 markets.

Such a client base, which also includes WFTX Fort Myers and WFAA Dallas, is enough to get local TV executives’ attention. “I think, if it’s 42 local stations, then I need to be familiar with it,” said Raycom VP of Research Billy McDowell. “Rentrak offers lots of possibilities about learning new things from our audience.”

Stations have, of course, used Nielsen’s ratings for eons. Nielsen is often viewed as a necessary evil: pricey and prone to puzzling fluctuations, but required for business with advertisers. (Nexstar is a notable exception in that its stations do not subscribe.) Station veterans have worked with Nielsen ratings their entire careers, but many are game to try something new.

StationView Essentials derives its findings from a pool of settop boxes in 21 million households connected to Dish Network (15 million), Charter and U-verse.

“The size of Rentrak’s universe is large,” says WGCL Atlanta VP/General Manager Kirk Black. “If they keep signing up cable and satellite carriers, we’re intrigued.” (Meredith’s WGCL and WFSB Hartford signed with Rentrak in early August.)

Rentrak CEO Bill Livek frequently touts StationView’s holy trinity of “abilitys”: stability, predictability, and ability to pair second-by-second ratings information with behavioral databases from research firm Experian Simmons to give a more granular picture of who’s watching what—and what the viewer’s buying patterns look like. “We can integrate and overlay all types of information, such as product usage, that are important to advertisers,” Livek says.

Nielsen isn’t exactly coasting. It began testing set-top-box ratings in three markets last month, pairing box data with its traditional panel measurement. Nielsen remains the currency of ad agencies, and Rentrak will need accreditation from the independent Media Rating Council before StationView Essentials is an accepted measurement service on Madison Avenue. “It’s unknown data for agencies,” says one general manager, though the likes of MediaVest and Starcom subscribe to sister service TV Essentials.

Rentrak’s station clients aren’t planning to drop Nielsen anytime soon. They see StationView Essentials as a supplemental service whose detailed data can boost efficiency and intelligence, whether it pertains to sales, promotions or programming decisions. Breaking the Nielsen habit may be years off, if it happens at all.

But if Rentrak continues to grow, GMs say it gives them options. “If there’s a better way to measure viewing and it’s accredited and advertisers jump on board, why wouldn’t you [consider dropping Nielsen]?” Black says. “Anything is possible.”

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