TiVo wants to play the ratings game.
Set-top viewing data is a hot commodity, but now TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) says it plans to give the information away for free. In a note on the TiVo Research website (hat tip The Drum and Zatz Not Funny), the company says that it will celebrate the merger of ratings companies comScore Inc. and Rentrak Corp. (Nasdaq: RENT) with the release of free TV ratings data starting in the first quarter of 2016. (See also comScore, Rentrak Become One.)
TiVo goes on to share its reasoning behind the move on the freeratings.tv website:
"We don’t think anyone should have to pay for the most basic data we provide -- demographic TV ratings. We’re much more interested in helping you improve your business and overcome the real challenges you face in a way that other sources of ratings data never will. We do this with anonymized individual household-level viewing data from more than two million homes, directly matched to online exposure and purchase data."
TiVo's audience reach is not insignificant. While many of its customers are international (and therefore likely don't contribute to the pool of more than 2 million homes that TiVo cites), the company still has a sizable US customer base and the potential to grow further through new partnerships with service providers. Most recently, TiVo announced a new distribution deal with WideOpenWest Holdings LLC (WOW) and a partnership with the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC) , which will give the company access to 850 mid-tier cable companies, and potentially 10 million cable homes.
TiVo's retail customer base is far less promising with fewer than a million subscribers, but the company is hoping to turn things around on that front with new mass-market products like the TiVo Bolt. (See TiVo's Retail Fortunes Flag and TiVo Takes Aim With Bolt.)
The traditional TV ratings system dominated by Nielsen has struggled for years to account for new types of video viewing and to include new real-time data sources. Nielsen itself has integrated some set-top data into its measurement solutions, notably announcing a partnership with Charter Communications Inc. for a limited set of set-top data back in 2008, and using its joint venture company Nielsen Catalina to team up with FourthWall Media Inc. to access additional set-top data in 2014, bringing its total pool of set-top data to 4.3 million households.*
Nielsen rival Rentrak, however, has been much more aggressive, collecting data from a total of 26 million set-top homes as reported in 2014.
On the service provider front, many operators are looking at set-top data as a way to generate new revenue. After years of fearing the regulatory consequences of selling subscriber information, pay-TV companies are now loosening up in response to digital measurement activities on the web. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reported that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is actively looking to license its set-top data and has already approached programmers, including Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS)'s ESPN, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. (owned by Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX)) and Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK). Comcast currently shares set-top data with its own company NBC Universal. The WSJ noted that Nielsen offered to pay $100 million for Comcast's set-top data set, but the ratings company wanted exclusive rights. Comcast declined.
The fact that TiVo is willing to give data away for free may irk Comcast, but then again, Comcast's scale is much larger than TiVo's (with access to data from roughly 18 million subscribers), giving the operator plenty of leverage to sell its own data. Smaller operators may have a harder time competing, but for the biggest measurement companies, having a diverse pool of set-top sources will still be important. TiVo's data set is only one of many.
*Note: An earlier version of this story stated that Nielsen Catalina gained access to 1.4 million set-top households in 2014, but that number was from the deal with FourthWall Media only and did not include other set-top data sources which bring the number to 4.3 million households.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading