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Offering both content and data, set-top boxes are the key to understanding tuning behavior.

The Set-Top Box Data Revolution Will Be Televised

July 14th, 2016   ||    by Charlene Weisler

The set-top box (STB) and its ability to passively collect tuning data has been an exciting development for the world of TV measurement for the past decade, notes Digiday. The IAB defines an STB simply as an electronic device, usually supplied when you subscribe to any digital video package, that connects to your TV and provides access to the Internet, game systems, or cable systems. Its capability to not only feed out content but also receive usage data expands its value to the media industry as a measurement device.


CIMM (The Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement) released an STB Data whitepaper listing the following uses of set-top box data:

  • Local TV measurement especially in the smaller diary markets
  • Measurement for long tail networks where the Nielsen sample size is small or where there is no Nielsen measurement
  • The use of database matching to segment consumers by geography or other criteria, particularly for hard-to-reach or niche audiences
  • Addressable advertising and monitoring of specific campaigns
  • Within-network strategizing for promo placement and audience flow optimization
  • Use by cable operators for signal quality, marketing, measuring customer satisfaction, and in carriage negotiations

Since the publishing of this paper, there’s been a lot of activity surrounding STB data usage in measurement with companies like Rentrak (recently acquired by comScore). Rentrak has been building a business around set-top box data measurement, especially on the local level, and Nielsen has been expanding its sample locally by adding set-top box data to its meter.


The road to implementation has not been easy. Early pushback by MVPDs (Multichannel Video Program Distributors) such as MSOs, Telcos, and Satcos, media companies, and agencies focused on privacy concerns, data gaps, box faults and latency issues, viewing versus tuning behavior, footprint holes, data projectability, and representativeness. But many of these concerns have largely been addressed and the desire for more big data sets from boxes has gained steam as individual companies start to build their own DMPs, programmatic, and cross media solutions.

“In the last year set-top boxes have become ‘normalized’,” explains Bruce Goerlich, consulting director of research, Consumer Orbit. “The integration of product and services with set-top boxes is now a part of the TV industry on both a national and local basis across services, and were part of the structure of the upfront, particularly comScore. comScore data is integrated into MediaOcean and therefore can be posted by national ad agencies. Making this data an executable form of the currency is the change,” he added.

Jane Clarke, CIMM CEO and managing director, sees a different shift and notes that, “Over the past few years, the MVPD’ s have realized the value of their data for their own ad sales purposes, but not all of them understand that there would be greater value unleashed if they would combine their data with that of other MVPD’ s for a more representative national footprint. The industry is turning to Smart TV data instead.”

Whether the set-top box data movement is integration or a migration to SmartTV data, the potential for buyers and sellers to better pinpoint target audience segments is rich with possibilities from box-originated, passively collected tuning data. Matched with other first and third-party data sources, this data will facilitate the connection of television consumption with cross platform usage and purchaser behavior with large datasets that enable granular analysis. This data revolution that seemed so far away a decade ago is now knocking on our doors.

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