There was an interesting little news item yesterday that, in my opinion, is quite significant. Financial news network CNBC signed a deal with media agency MPG (on behalf of the agency’s client, Fidelity) that guarantees Fidelity certain audience delivery figures in terms of both demos and household income. The demo guarantees are based on Nielsen People Meter data and the household income guarantees are based on Rentrak set-top box data.
What is particularly important about this, as this article points out, is that “This marks the first deal MPG has done using Rentrak data as a guarantee — a watershed for Rentrak, which has said the TV market has room for more than one data set.” In this case, then, the Rentrak data are standing alongside the Nielsen data as a currency.
This development reflects one of the key arguments in Audience Evolution, that the fragmentation of the media environment (not just in television, but virtually all media) is putting a tremendous strain on traditional currencies (particularly those derived from panels), and creating an environment that is much more receptive to multiple performance metrics/currencies operating simultaneously.
The key reason that we’re likely to see this pattern persist harkens back to Chris Anderson’s well-known Long Tail phenomenon. As Anderson notes, in today’s media environment, niche content providers are so numerous that, in the aggregate, their audience exceeds that of those content providers that attract traditional mass audiences.
In the realm of audience measurement, this translates into a level of financial significance, in the aggregate, for the niche content providers that enables them to command the attention of audience measurement firms seeking to serve their needs — needs that are distinctly not met by traditional panel-based measurement systems, which are notoriously bad at measuring narrow appeal, niche content providers relative to those content providers that attract larger audiences.
Correcting this imbalance is central to the appeal of set-top box data, as well as to a wide range of emerging audience measurement systems (discussed in Audience Evolution) that are seeking to measure dimensions of audience behavior beyond exposure.