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Taking Measure of VOD

Programmers and advertisers will soon have access to reports that detail how cable subscribers watch video-on-demand content, but the reports won’t track whether viewers fast-forward through commercials.

Comcast Corp. said last Thursday that it will begin supplying programmers and advertisers in April with free monthly VOD usage reports. The MSO is collecting the data with a system from Rentrak Corp., which announced last week that Cablevision Systems Corp. will run a one-year trial of its VOD-measurement system.

Insight Communications Co. also deploys Rentrak’s “OnDemand Essentials” system.


Although Comcast recently began posting lists of the most popular monthly pay and free VOD titles on its Web site, cable operators have generally been using the data on an internal basis, to monitor how their customers are viewing content. But Rentrak senior vice president Cathy Hetzel said the company will partner with cable MSOs to supply VOD usage data to advertisers.

“Advertisers certainly have been in discussion with us for a very long time about how this is going to evolve, and how they will ultimately be able to use the Rentrak system. Our sense is that we will partner with the MSOs on this business,” Hetzel said.

Although she said Rentrak has the ability to track “trick modes” — it can tell whether subscribers fast-forward, rewind or pause a program — the company can’t yet show whether subscribers are skipping commercials because the ads aren’t yet tagged in a manner to enable the company to distinguish between spots and regular programming content.

Currently, Rentrak’s system tracks four metrics for its cable customers: the number of VOD set-tops enabled; total views by set-top; unique set-top box views; and total minutes viewed for each program.

Comcast is using Rentrak’s system to track 3,000 VOD titles in its library, including movies and other content, ranging from shows on Nickelodeon to broadcast content such as NBC Nightly News. Cablevision’s VOD library consists of 1,200 titles, and the company charges customers additional fees for all VOD content.

Comcast said it will provide individual programmers with reports on how their VOD content was viewed within 10 days of the end of each month. The data from Comcast systems nationwide will be consolidated in the reports.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts planned to discuss the Rentrak agreement during a speech last Thursday in New Orleans, at the American Association of Advertising Agencies annual convention.

Comcast recently began posting the titles of its most popular VOD titles on its Web site. Kids’ programs have been the clear leader, nabbing nine of the top 10 most popular free VOD titles for the week ended Feb. 20.

The average Comcast household uses its VOD system 23 times a month, the MSO said.

Episodes of PBS’s Barney & Friends ranked as the first and third most popular programs. Six of the top 10 free VOD titles were episodes of Nick series, SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, All Grown Up and Blue’s Clues.

While parents who park their kids in front of a TV set are likely making the selections on Comcast systems, it’s not exactly clear whether a legion of preschool kids has learned to order VOD titles: The Rentrak system can’t tell who in a household is picking the programming.