Rentrak System Is Year Away From Launch

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NEW YORK ( -- It’s the Holy Grail of accountability, and for video on demand, it’s right around the corner.
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Beta test
Marketers just moved a step closer to knowing who’s actually watching their ads, thanks to a beta test by Rentrak, which now has a product to measure commercials watched as part of the cable industry’s free video-on-demand service.

“The advertising industry is eager to be able to separate measurement of [individual shows] vs. measurement of the ads,” said Cathy Hetzel, Rentrak’s senior VP, On Demand Essentials, which tracks program viewing. The Portland, Ore., firm tracks media transactions in all manner of businesses, from home video rentals to the box office.

“We are chomping at the bit to get this kind of data,” said Tim Hanlon, senior VP, Publicis Groupe Media, of the nascent Ad Essentials product. “It can’t happen fast enough.”

Mr. Hanlon has been a major proponent of moves to provide advertisers with “actual usage, not ratings and projections. ... If this signals the availability of such data, we’re excited, to say the least. Until now, we’ve been stymied in our efforts to get this data, not by Rentrak, but the cable operators. If anything, this helps to melt the ice.”

Current VOD advertisers
Advertisers already experimenting with VOD include Miller Brewing Co., BMW, General Motors Corp., Kohler, Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Kimberly-Clark. In most cases, marketers are using VOD as an add-on to a bigger cable TV deal, and not paying for it outright. Nielsen Media Research has two products in the works to measure VOD, but the plan is to measure audience for shows, not commercial viewing. Once Rentrak’s measurement service is up and running, it will be able to tell marketers, for instance, that a certain number of viewers watched SpongeBob SquarePants, and then watched HBO’s Real Sex. Such data could help media planners understand where their potential customers move around the digital TV landscape.

“The ads need to have an ID -- a time stamp in the stream -- to allow us to say here is what happened during this ad,” Ms. Hetzel said. “We’re developing a prototype system that could overlay demographic information and doing some experimenting to see what other ways we could use the info about program viewing to better target for the advertisers.”

Launch in about a year
While Ms. Hetzel admitted plans to launch Ad Essentials were still vague, she predicted the product is likely to be available in about a year. Ms. Hetzel is visiting media agencies to gain feedback about how the data might best be represented on screen. The product would potentially tell marketers not only how many people stuck around for the 30-second ad, but who fast-forwarded or rewound it, along with demographic data. Currently marketers can find out about VOD programming streams but not commercial messages.

Ms. Hetzel explained how the product might develop: “We would have a screen and a marketer might say, ‘I want to reach X number of impressions and women over 25 who are working and ride bicycles. We would have a sliding scale of household income and other information and submit that and give you an index of programs that would influence that audience.”

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