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How Freesat uses data from 70,000 STBs to track viewer behaviour in real time

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A live screenshot from Freesat’s data analytics platform TVbeat

By Barry Flynn, Contributing Editor

At the Connected TV Summit in London, free-to-air satellite broadcaster Freesat demonstrated how it is now able to analyse viewer behavior in real-time by harnessing data from its set-top boxes.

Freesat’s CTO, Matthew Huntington, explained that in December 2015, the company had updated the software on its next-generation Freetime connected boxes to enable real-time data gathering, and also sought permission from its customers to do so. The result was that “today we have over 70,000 boxes reporting, second-by-second, on what they’re doing.”

Freesat currently uses data analytics tools from two companies to analyse the results: Google Analytics and – through a partnership announced on the day of Huntington’s presentation – TVbeat’s real-time audience attribution technology.

Huntington began by showing delegates live data from remote control button-presses via the Google Analytics dashboard, which was able to precisely track how users progressed through the Freetime EPG.  

One unexpected result was that “people used the channel-up button 50% more than they used the channel down button,” said Huntington. Further investigation showed that viewers were using the channel-up button to descend down through the EPG (i.e. up through the channel numbers), but then using direct number entry to return to a channel listed near the top.

“There is actually a bit more to that direct number entry,” said Huntington. “They are using it to jump to specific channels or particular genres in our guide. And the insight for us there is that logical channel numbers and people using channel numbers is still a very important part of television watching. So some of the drive to get rid of number keys from TV remote controls is probably a little early.”

Switching to the TVbeat dashboard, Huntington showed how the audience for Channel Four’s live horse-racing coverage on Freesat was evolving minute-by-minute. “You can imagine someone doing a live show, […] how they might be looking at this and altering their direction based on the feedback they can get,” suggested Huntington.

Another TVbeat screen showed which were the top channels currently being watched by Freesat viewers. “One interesting thing that comes out of this, if you look carefully, is that our IP services are actually showing up in our top 30 channels,” noted Huntington. “We measure those IP services with the same metrics and the same methodology as we’re measuring the TV channels.”

According to this measurement system, the BBC iPlayer is the sixth most popular channel, while Netflix is the ninth, said Huntington. However, he noted, “if you add together their share, [the IP channels are] still only making about 5% audience share overall.”

Huntington also showed how TVbeat’s analytics could be used to track particular audience segments’ programme preferences across channels, starting with Freesat viewers watching an episode of the Australian soap Neighbours on Channel 5.

TVbeat revealed that they channel-hopped to follow favourite soaps such as Emmerdale and Coronation Street on ITV and then EastEnders on the BBC. “We can see that those Neighbours watchers are soap fans, and wherever there is a soap, they will watch it,” concluded Huntington.

Freesat and TVbeat were commended in the ‘Data-Driven TV’ category at the Videonet Connected TV Awards on March 16.

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