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VOD Measurement System to Be Unveiled at 4As Conference

But Rentrak Tracking System Sparks Debate Over Definition of Impressions

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What happens when you can't define an impression? That's exactly what the VOD marketplace is battling right now. At the 4A's Media Conference in Orlando, Fla., Rentrak Corp. will unveil its long-awaited Ad Essentials VOD measurement system.
One big issue in the VOD measurment discussion is this: What constitutes an 'impression' or 'view' in the on-demand video format?

Data types
Rentrack will report the number of household impressions, what time of the day video-on-demand programs were viewed and demographic data down to the ZIP code. But like the online industry has battled in the past, the VOD industry is still trying to figure out exactly constitutes an impression or view.

"We've developed a system that's flexible enough to work with whatever the industry agrees to," said Ken Papagan, exec VP-corporate strategy and business development at Rentrak, a Portland, Ore.-based company that culls data from all the cable operators and then digests it for programs and advertisers. Its cable clients range from National Geographic Channel to MTV to Music Choice. It will begin to sign up advertisers shortly, Mr. Papagan said.

Many definitions
What constitutes a VOD impression depends on whose definition you use. Cable operators generally count a view as any on-demand program that's been downloaded for which playback has been initiated. Advertisers, however, are interested in knowing how many people watched the entire stream, ensuring that they saw the ad. Sometimes there's discrepancy even within the same cable operator as to what the guideline should be.

The scenario is much like the early online advertising industry. The Interactive Advertising Bureau guidelines indicate that an ad cannot be counted until the user's browser sends a message requesting the ad. Online media buyers, meanwhile, said last summer Yahoo toughened its guidelines and would count an impression only once the full ad loads and appears on the screen.

Similarly, cable operators tend to count a VOD view from the moment the program is ordered up from a customer's set-top box, a definition that was born out of its early pay-per-view roots. But if ad-supported VOD is to become more prevalent, the definition needs to evolve to indicate whether consumers began watching the on-demand program and, perhaps, how long they watched the program.

'Still prototyping'
"We've done hundreds of interviews with all the players," Mr. Papagan said. "We have iterated a number of versions, with each constituency. We're not purporting to have a completed product, we're still prototyping. But at least now we can get on a public level a reaction from the industry."

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Kris Oser contributed to this article.

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