Home Analysis Advertising Set-top and online patents accentuate metrics debate

Set-top and online patents accentuate metrics debate

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Evolving television and online delivery platforms are driving changes in the business and technology of audience measurement. A recent U.S. patent award on set-top data collection and the settlement of a patent dispute between two Web metrics companies are cases in point.

How to measure audiences is live question. It has been a “consistent theme” at Videonet’s annual Future of Advertising Forum events, including its most recent, as reported here last month. At that gathering, the CEO of the UK’s BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) Bjarne Thelin underscored the coexistence of broadcast and IP-delivered video and the “overlap” of measurement techniques. The topic also surfaced at this month’s CES2012 event in Las Vegas.

“A huge challenge for the TV industry is metrics,” said Marty Roberts, VP Sales and Marketing for thePlatform, an online video management company that serves a range of Pay TV providers, including Sky, Liberty Global and Comcast. (Roberts was speaking at a Parks Associates-led CES panel on Three Screens.) “We’re going to need to develop a new currency of the realm.”

Group M/MEC’s Simon Thomas draws a contrast between comScore and Nielsen

Confirming that change is ongoing, if slow, was news last week of the award of a U.S. patent to DirecTV for technology enabling real-time collection of data from set-top boxes to provide ratings. (Thanks to Fierce Cable’s Steve Donohue for the spotting the patent news.) DirecTV actually had filed the patent in 2009, the year after it began working with TNS Media Research on a ratings service using data from 100,000 DirecTV subscribers, which projects onto its universe of 18 million. In July 2011, Kantar Media (which owns TNS) agreed to provide Nielsen with ratings from that service to augment Nielsen’s National People Meter panel data.

How DirecTV plans to use the freshly minted patent remains to be seen, but the larger point is that the service provider’s set-top data already are impacting the reigning currency in U.S. viewership metrics, namely that of Nielsen. (Due perhaps ironically to its anti-trust jurisprudence, the U.S. does not have an equivalent to the non-profit measurement consortia, such as BARB, that prevail in other countries.)

In related legal news, in late December 2011 Nielsen and online metrics firm comScore settled a patent dispute that appears to blur the line between the two sometimes rivals. (Nielsen had sued first, with comScore counter filing.) The agreement gives comScore ownership of four families of patents that Nielsen had challenged, but allows Nielsen to retain global licensing rights for them. The deal also blocks the two from further patent disputes for three years and awarded Nielsen $19 million in comScore restricted stock, an additional incentive to refrain from costly legal action.

Nielsen is better known for its TV ratings, but had expanded into online metrics in recent years, for instance with its “Three Screen Report.” The two companies have different cultures and approaches. Interviewed for Videonet’s Advanced Advertising Report, Group M’s Strategic System Director for EMEA Simon Thomas described comScore as “technologists who have become researchers” and Nielsen as “researchers who are not technologists.” They have famously diverged in the past on matters such as unique visitors to Hulu. The recent legal settlement may bridge some of these gaps.

Meanwhile, a cross-industry coalition in the U.S. continues to press for improved methods of digital measurement. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA), Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) released a set of guiding principles last summer as a foundation for its “Making Measurement Make Sense” initiative. The group followed up with a digital marketing measurement framework in September.

In a Washington Post news report on the comScore-Nielsen rapprochement, IAB SVP Research, Analytics and Measurement Sherrill Mane is quoted as saying that the coalition had moved ahead without Nielsen and comScore in order to “change the paradigm” and let advertisers lead the discussion.

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