TV station executives — particularly those in small diary-only markets — say the more detailed and immediate Rentrak numbers have improved their selling position, and media agencies say they like Rentrak’s melding of viewership and product purchasing data. Challenges remain, however, including figuring out how to track mobile, tablet, online and OTT viewing.
Growing acceptance over the past several years of Rentrak’s TV viewing data as at least a complement to Nielsen’s has resulted in tangible benefits for TV stations and media agencies. But challenges remain for the ratings upstart.
TV station executives — particularly those in small diary-only markets — say the more detailed and immediate Rentrak numbers have improved their selling position, and media agencies say they like Rentrak’s melding of viewership and product purchasing data.
“There are benefits to us intrinsically and benefits that are specific to what we are able to generate as a better resource to our [advertising] customers,” says Tim Busch, EVP-COO of Nexstar Broadcasting, a mid-size TV group that has been with Rentrak since 2010.
Bonten Media Group, which has used Rentrak since 2011, says its late evening newscasts — especially on its Fox affiliates — have seen sharp growth in ratings. “Typically the Fox affiliates get under-reported by Nielsen,” says Randy Bongarten, CEO of Bonten Media. “Before, the ratings with Nielsen were less than half.”
Looking at a wide range of TV station clients, Steven Walsh, executive VP of local television for Rentrak, says generally two key time periods have seen higher results: late fringe and early morning.
TV stations, which had been getting microscopic or no ratings at all for specific TV shows, now have competing data that can’t be ignored, Walsh says. “Now you can have a negotiation.”
Rentrak has clients from the biggest TV stations groups — ABC, CBS, Fox, Tribune, Sinclair, Gannett, Nexstar Broadcasting Group, Raycom Media, Lilly Broadcasting and many others. Overall, some 429 stations in 154 markets, including 128 like those of Nexstar and Bonten that have dropped Nielsen and now use Rentrak exclusively.
Unlike Nielsen, which uses small representative samples of hundreds of homes to measure viewership in each market, Rentrak gets its second-by-second TV viewing data from some 16 million set-top box TV homes.
Rentrak says the numbers vary by market size. For example, big markets: Los Angeles: 881,000 TV homes in its measurement footprint; Chicago 611,000. Mid-size markets: New Orleans has 181,000, Knoxville, 122,000. Smaller markets: Rapid City, S.D., has 9,000 and Grand Junction, Colo.: 7,000.
Rentrak doesn’t provide traditional age and gender breakdowns on a specific program and time basis as Nielsen does — which can present a problem with media agencies and advertisers use to dealing on that traditional TV data.
However, Rentrak does gets general third-party research determining the overall type of persons — young, old, male and female — who are in those set-top box TV homes.
In particular Rentrak data has been most effective in helping stations in smaller Nielsen diary markets by giving them access to daily viewing data 24/7— all this versus Nielsen TV data which is delivered four times a year, the sweep periods, in those markets.
Bonten Media stations are in those smaller diary markets. Like Nexstar, it uses Rentrak as the only TV measurement service.
“With the Nielsen data, you were getting wild swings in the ratings from book to book,” says Bongarten. “For something that is supposed to be a currency, you can’t have … it fluctuating by as much as 50%.”
A key benefit for stations is Rentrak’s consumer product buying information tied to its TV viewing service. This is, historical product purchasing data detailing what consumers buy in grocery stores, electronics and other purchases, including cars.
“Take as an example that I’m working with local Ford dealer,” says Nexstar’s Busch. “Do you think they really care that I’m the No. 1 news in the market? What they care about is moving trucks this month.”
Raycom Media, which has been with Rentrak four years, has also seen good results for its auto advertisers. “There are now auto dealers buying specifically on Rentrak,” says Billy McDowell, Raycom’s research VP. Raycom’s Charlotte, N.C., CBS affiliate, WBTV, has seen improvement among specific automotive dealers, particularly the Subaru outlets.
In using Rentrak, Kelly Lattimer, GM of Nexstar-operated WTVO Rockford, Ill. says: “The more tightly targeted and highly focused we can be in terms of finding their ideal customers, the more efficiently we can direct a local company’s precious marketing dollars”
Even in large markets, those with Nielsen local people meters, stations have seen benefits: “In those markets it’s less about having data every day and more about having more tools, more ammunition,” says Stacey Lynn Schulman, EVP of strategy, analytics, and research for national TV station sales rep Katz Media Group.
Rentrak has gotten plenty of traction on the buy side. Five of the major media agency holding companies — WPP, Omnicom, IPG, Publicis and Dentsu/Aegis — have signed up with Rentrak. Last year, WPP acquired a 19.9% stake in Rentrak.
But agencies are not ready to do business solely on Rentrak, although at least one, Zenith Media, has said it is testing the idea. “Nielsen is still the currency so [Rentrak-only] stations need to negotiate unit rates with the buyers,” say Nancy Larkin, SVP-director of local television for Horizon Media.
Nonethless, Larkin says the Horizon does a lot of business in smaller markets that have diaries — and the added research that comes from Rentrak will be of benefit.
Media agencies and stations say Rentrak’s efforts around two big advertising categories — automotive and political — are major reasons to sign on. Raycom’s McDowell says political information is important especially where, for example, a program index can be higher for specific voters versus other shows.
One of the biggest changes for all TV station executives — big and small — with using Rentrak has been the decline in “make-good” inventory stations doled out to TV marketers for viewership under-delivery, according to Rentrak’s Walsh. He estimates this accounts for 15% of all local TV inventory — about $3 billion.
Challenges remain for Rentrak. For one, its data doesn’t come from a representative sample like Nielsen’s. Rentrak “weights” and “models” data.
But even that may be changing. “We have always had projecting of audiences and modeling of audience,” says Sam Armando, SVP-director of strategic intelligence at Starcom MediaVest Group. “The question is: is it done to the best that it can be done.”
Other hurdles? Rentrak needs to keep pace with how TV viewing is changing, concedes Walsh. Right now, Rentrak can measure linear and VOD measurement, but it needs to do grow with mobile, tablet and online. Also, “We need to get better on OTT [over the top television].”
Long term, stations aren’t just looking to take share from other stations or about changing media currency. Many are worried about new digital competition — when non-station-owned local digital platforms become major competitors to traditional TV station groups.
Raycom’s McDowell says: “There is much talk about digital and its ability to target consumers. Local TV needs to do as good as job as digital.”