The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India has started the exercise of collaborating with direct-to-home (DTH) and cable operators to measure viewership patterns of their set-top boxes. The television audience measurement agency BARC India has rolled out its pilot projects with its current partners, including DEN Networks, Airtel Digital TV and Siti Cable. “We are in discussion with more cable and DTH firms and hope to get them on board soon,” says Partho Dasgupta, chief executive officer at BARC India.
Right now, the operators have tied up with BARC and they are working with their technology partners to make set-top boxes return path data (RPD) ready. As mentioned in this column earlier, before BARC can start measuring the boxes, the cable and DTH firms will have to make their set top boxes RPD ready. This means that the set-top boxes will have to be two-way—they need a return path.
What is RPD?
For a better understanding of how subscribers consume content, the agency is focusing on return path data (RPD), which is a process where viewership information like what channel is being watched and for how long flows back from the set top boxes.
How does it work?
Return path data can be used to generate data equivalent to the currency TV audience measurement (TAM) data such as program ratings and channel shares. However, the data’s real strength is found in providing insights that are complementary to the market people meter data. The following list identifies some of the main applications for which return path data is being used internationally, and how these data complement existing TAM services:
1) Interactive TV reports – while it is theoretically possible for currency TAM services to measure of interactive services, the relatively small samples in most TAM services cannot provide the level of detail needed to properly understand usage of enhanced TV such as use of alternate camera angles or custom overlays. Return path data overcomes these limits.
2) Custom audience analyses – due to the currency nature of TAM, many of the interesting questions relating to “reasons why” cannot be asked of people meter panelists. In contrast, custom return path panels offer platforms and channels the opportunity to collect extended demographic and behavioural characteristics not regularly available in currency services.
3) Subscriber management services –due to the syndicated nature of most currency services, platform operators gain little insight into the viewing behaviours of critical subscriber segments relevant to platform operators. By way of contrast, return path services can offer metrics which support viewer management based on Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) or propensity to churn metrics
4) Precise measurement of fragmented audiences – the economics of people meter panels limit the resolution for reporting of small share channels. Return path services offer significantly larger sample sizes (typically ten or more times the size of a country’s TAM currency) and the ability to obtain accurate estimates of viewership for smaller share channels or for channels at small (sub-market) levels.
5) Extended Audience Measurement – while many currency TAM services now include time shift viewing measurement, most currency TAM systems are not designed to reflect that the total audience for a cable or satellite program may be accumulated over multiple broadcasts and through time shift viewing and on-demand access. The limits of this reporting can be overcome with the custom analyses possible in Return Path Data
6) Advertising Planning for Custom Audiences – return path services are often used to provide enhanced single-source style demographics by measuring the viewing and purchase behaviours within a single home. This highly desirable data allows a channel to offer advertising clients increased efficiency through buying spots based on a product definition and to provide a post-evaluation service showing the effectiveness of the buy. This is not possible with a currency TAM service.
7) Interactive Advertising Accountability – multi-channel operators can demonstrate the accountability of their interactive advertising, particularly for highly engaging formats such as impulse response ads that seek a direct response or a telescopic ad directs a viewer to 10 minutes of long-form content. While there are many other applications, the power of the return path data is that the information can be used extensively by all parties within the multi-channel world, including the platform, channel and advertising management teams. Further, these applications will generally complement – not compete – with the currency TAM service.
Around the world
World numerous multi-platform operators are using return path data from many years ago. In the last five years, multi-channel operations such as BSkyB in the UK and DirectTV in the US have invested significantly in developing services for their businesses. In the Asia Pacific region, Sky New Zealand, Korea Telecom and the Australian subscription TV industry have all made significant commitments to return path services. While each implementation is different, platform operators need to consider the following main factors when implementing a return path system:
1) Set Top Data – ensuring that the digital set-top boxes can return information about subscriber behaviour to the platform in a timely and accurate manner is an essential part of any return path service.
2) Platform Data – while a lot of focus in setting up RPD is on extracting set top data from subscriber homes, platforms also need to ensure that ancillary data (such as subscriber management and broadcast operations data) can be easily produced for processing.
3) Third Party Processor – while a cable or satellite operator may be able to process the return path data, there are many advantages gained by using a third party to process the data. Specifically, independent processing is often seen as essential if the data will be used for trading. In addition, a third party processor often brings with them other advantages linked to their experience, scale and adaptability.
4) Broad Business Ownership – It is often easy for an RPD project to be “owned” by one department within a platform (eg engineering or IT or research). Because of the multi-faceted nature of return path services, the development and management teams should span all the main business functions of an operator including platform management, channel management and advertising management. This will ensure that the system will be able to support the insight needs for every key business section, not just the core project manager.
Now in India
The process is called return path data as the viewership information—such as what channel is being watched and for how long—flows back from the set-top boxes. The back-end server registers the channels you tune into or switch to. DTH and cable firms can process the information themselves but it benefits them to get it processed by BARC, which has proven skills in the area. This additional data accessed from set-top boxes will allow DTH operators to understand how their subscribers consume content especially on their in-house video-on-demand channels. There are many benefits of RPD both for BARC and the users of viewership data. For BARC, the biggest advantage of using RPD ready set-top boxes is that this methodology to boost its sample size will work out “significantly” cheaper. For instance, if a BARC meter costs approximately ₹25,000, making the set-top box RPD ready will come at a fraction of that cost. Right now, BARC has a sample size of 30,000 meters.
According to Dasgupta, the mandated panel home size, which is measured through a BARC meter, as per the ministry of information and broadcasting is 50,000. “However, we have always believed that with the size, scale and diversity that India offers, one cannot stop at that.” But he agrees that recruiting and maintaining a panel home as well as seeding BAR-o-Meters (as BARC meters are called) comes at a high price, which acts as an inhibitor. “It is for this that we decided to take the return path data (RPD) route to upscale the panel home size. RPD clubbed with the current data from panel homes will help the TV industry get access to deeper and far richer insights into TV viewing behaviour in the most cost-effective manner,” he says. Television viewership measurement in every country is sample-based, which means television viewing behaviour collected from sample homes is then extrapolated to the universe of television viewing individuals.
The strength of the system BARC India has set up with its current 30,000 sample homes is visible in the data which responds to external or internal changes, says Dasgupta. Having said that, a bigger sample pool will help in making the data far more robust than it currently is. “The plan is to partner platform owners who will help us upscale the panel home size to 200,000 plus. The advantage of having a larger sample pool is that it reduces relative error, thus giving more robust data for niche channels,” he says.
In a recent presentation, BARC said it was looking to measure 40,000 set-top boxes with each of the partners it has tied up with. This means it will draw data from these homes. Advertising agencies making media plans for clients are happy with the prospect of a wider sample. Neel Kamal Sharma, chief operating officer (buying) at Madison Media, says: “30,000 panel homes is very good for any TV measurement country but given the heterogeneity and vastness of our country, more panel homes will give sharper viewership trends by different cuts which is the key for media planning. Needless to say, that it will reduce errors.”
He feels that it may be sometime before BARC is able to actually provide data from the expanded sample size of 200,000 homes using cable and DTH set-top boxes, but it will make much more robust data base for viewership and will help in peeping into households whose viewership patterns are untapped. Clearly, the entire industry stands to benefit once BARC merges data collected through RPD with data from people panel homes—which Sharma feels will be a big challenge. However, it will improve the robustness and accuracy of data, especially for small and regional channels.