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Week In Review: Comcast Strikes Deal To Sell Set Top Box Data To Nielsen; Disney Gives A Few More Details About Its New OTT Apps

1. Comcast Strikes Deal To Sell Set Top Box Data To Nielsen

After years of holding out for a higher price, Comcast has agreed to join Dish and others in selling its set top box data to Nielsen for measurement purposes. The data is of course anonymized and stripped of any potential personal identifiers.U

Why It Matters

This is all about getting better ratings for local broadcasters. Local stations have been defecting to ComScore because they feel that Nielsen’s diary-based panels aren’t big enough to get accurate measurement, especially in smaller local markets. That’s why they’re looking at set top box data to supplement them.

Local broadcasting is a whole world of hurt right now anyway, mostly because no one can really figure out a reason why it still exists. (Yeah, we went there.) In today’s digital world, media entities that are tied to hundred-year old broadcast technology are tough to justify. Local news and weather can be supplied by a company that specializes in local news (maybe even a division of CNN or FoxNews) or by the local newspaper. 

There’s a lot of advertising revenue from local car dealers and others who rely on the massive reach of local broadcast TV stations, but they can buy local ads on cable too, and as the MVPD’s addressable TV advertising becomes more commonplace, they can buy that too.

Then there’s ATSC 3.0, which is a very well thought out, very well designed technology for bringing broadcast television into the digital age. Except … it’s not backwards compatible.

That means it will only work on new TV sets. Which, given that most American families buy a new TV every seven years or so means it will be quite a while before ATSC 3.0 reaches any kind of critical mass. Worse still: the MVPDs are under no obligation to carry ATSC 3.0 signals and so likely won’t because (a) there won’t be enough demand for it for them to mess with their interfaces to include it as an option and (b) it could actually wind up undercutting them if it convinces people to switch to over the air reception (e.g., rooftop antennas.)

As for Nielsen and Comcast, the other interesting bit about this is that Comcast has long dreamed of using its set top box data to overthrow Nielsen. Unfortunately, Comcast does not have national coverage and they’ve been unable to bring enough other MVPDs on board to make national coverage happen. And now they’re getting pressured by companies who are all excited about ACR data, which, as we’ve discussed earlier this month, has the advantage of being able to measure viewing data regardless of whether the input is a set top box, a Roku box, a DVR or an antenna.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a local advertiser, you can now start putting more credence into Nielsen’s ratings. This may or may not matter depending on how happy you are with ComScore. Given that there aren’t a whole lot of options on local, you’ll be fine either way.

If you’re a local broadcaster, more accurate ratings thanks to Comcast set top box data can either be a blessing or a curse (or neither) depending on how the new data affects your numbers. Be prepared for either eventuality.

And if you’re the TV industry, you need to figure out what to do about local. It’s not like you can make it go away—there’s way too much money invested in it. Chances are it will be like Yahoo/Oath, a slowly leaking balloon that gradually fades in importance, but never fully disappears. Until one day it does, because the economics no longer work. Our suspicion though is that “one day” is a good fifteen to twenty years away.


2. Disney Gives A Few More Details About Its New OTT Apps

Over the summer, Disney announced that it would be launching two new OTT apps, one built around ESPN, the other built around, well, not-ESPN—it was unclear whether they envisioned a kid-based channel or something that hewed closer to ABC.

CEO Bob Iger gave a few clues during the most recent earnings call, but did not shed a whole lot of light.

Why It Matters

As best anyone can ascertain, the ESPN app will be a reworking of the existing ESPN app that will be available to those who already get ESPN from their MVPD. Users will be able to pay more to see events that are not broadcast on live TV, likely more niche sports like volleyball or wrestling. At one point recently, Disney indicated that users would be able to buy the right to watch specific sports rather than the entire package, but Iger did not speak to that this week.

The bulk of what he said was “The product will be accessible through a new and fully redesigned ESPN app, which will allow users to access sports scores and highlights, stream our channels on an authenticated basis and subscribe to ESPN+ for additional sports coverage, including thousands of live sporting events.” 

The new ESPN+ (or ESPN Plus) app will launch in Spring 2018 and will be ad supported to some degree.

The other app will feature new Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm movies released within the first pay window along with some movies produced exclusively for the networks and original series based on Star Wars, Monster’s Inc (Pixar) and High School Musical. Iger did indicate that since the new as-yet-to-be-named channel will have considerably less content than Netflix or Hulu, the price would reflect that. (Our guess: a CBS All Access matching $5.99 which would be in line with Iger’s “significantly less” comment.)

What You Need To Do About It

Not much anyone can do other than sit back and wait for further details to emerge. If you’re an advertiser who wants to reach a niche sports audience, you might contact ESPN sooner than later, especially if you want in on a sponsorship or branded content deal. (Not that we have any reason to think those options are definitely on the table, but if they are, now would be the time to talk.)

And since the app is not slated to launch until the second half of 2019, we’ll all have plenty of time to speculate about it.