Tracking Video-on-Demand

The only topic hotter than the weather right now is video-on-demand (VOD) and, of equal importance, the challenge of monetizing it. One company with some ideas about that is Portland, Ore.-based Rentrak, which measures VOD viewership. Comcast, the country’s largest cable operator, recently inked a multi-year, non-exclusive deal with Rentrak and will use its OnDemand Essentials measurement system to report and analyze on-demand viewership. Cathy Hetzel, senior VP for Rentrak OnDemand Essentials, discussed the future of VOD measurement with B&C’s Ken Kerschbaumer.

How does Rentrak’s measurement differ from Nielsen’s?

The big difference is, it’s a census approach versus sampling, which is the direction that Nielsen will take when it offers VOD ratings as part of a whole-house rating. Our system relies on receiving a daily broad data feed from the on-demand video servers. It’s all electronic, and then we process that feed from a secure site and create reports on a daily basis for our clients.

What’s the advantage to the census approach?

We’re currently gathering data from more than 50% of VOD-enabled homes. That type of granularity helps the industry get smarter about what to put on the VOD server, how long to keep it on there, and how to promote the content—all things that make the business stronger. In the advertising area, where the opportunities to date have been only experimentation, we hope to develop deeper information that will let us track ads as well.

Companies like Rentrak and ErinMedia are considering using set-top–box data to track viewership. Will that change the way Nielsen does its measurement?

I don’t think so. Nielsen has a strong brand and established currency for ratings. I think advertisers and agencies will see us as more of a supplemental service.

But could you measure all of the TV viewing in addition to VOD?

We would certainly see that as a path for Rentrak.

What’s Rentrak’s next challenge?

We just went live with our OnDemand content-provider site in August, and that gives our partners daily information about what was watched on their service. And we’re working through agreements with content providers right now. We also want to continue to expand our participating MSOs.

What’s the typical relationship with a cable operator?

They do the work with VOD vendors to provide the feed for us, and in exchange, they get the base report system for no cost. If they want customization and additional reports, they pay for those. And with that, they give us the permission to sell our service as a means for content providers to view data. But the MSO always owns the data.

What’s included in the base report?

There are literally hundreds of ways that you can slice and dice the data. It can be across all participating MSOs, broken down by region, performance by title, people who watched this title also watched this title—the list goes on and on.