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Cable Technology Feature Article

September 24, 2014

Nielsen, Simulmedia Support the Little Guy with Niche Cable Ratings

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Niche cable networks have historically been faced with a conundrum: they provide valuable diversity in TV programming and allow their pay-TV carriers to differentiate themselves; yet by their very lack of mass appeal are often regulated to premium and specialty tiers within cable content bouquets, thus limiting their audience and ability to sell advertising. Nielsen and Simulmedia have inked a deal to improve their lot, with research into "long-tail" TV network measurement.

The theory is that there is sizable audience activity that goes unmeasured today on niche cable networks. Improved ratings measurement systems tailored to these networks will give them more reliable, qualified data to present to media buyers.

"We are very excited to work with Nielsen again on research that we expect will eventually allow smaller networks to sell advertising using consistent and reliable audience measurement tools," says Dave Morgan, Simulmedia's CEO. "In our work, we have found valuable blocks of audiences watching programs that may be under the radar of many network TV buyers. This research will surface both the value of these networks and their audiences to brands, and the cost-effectiveness of working with them to reach attractive consumers and achieve positive business outcomes."

Also at stake is basic carriage—many cable MSOs are leery of paying for content that isn’t popular, and have long complained about the practice of network bundling, wherein a media company will only offer popular channels if the operator also takes (and pays for) the smaller fry.

Last year, Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable and Bright House Networks took the grumbling to the action level when it dropped Ovation, the niche arts network, citing high programming costs relative to ratings. The move followed TWC CEO Glenn Britt's comment that TWC would be "having a different kind of conversation" with small niche channels going forward.

Britt has repeatedly warned that he could drop pricey but low-rated channels from the TWC line-up. Speaking at a UBS investor conference in 2012, he said that he planned to take a "hard look" at programming contracts, evaluating channels that "cost too much relative to the value of the service". Low-rated networks would from now on see a "different kind of conversation ... than we had with them five, six or ten years ago," he said, because programming is "just starting to cost too much.”

Ovation however had grown from 5 million grown from five million to 51 million homes in six years—but it didn’t have ratings information to fully make its case (it has since been re-added to the lineup after agreeing to beef up its programming slate).

The Simulmedia-Nielsen agreement is aiming to arm smaller nets with better tools, and is the culmination of more than a year of joint research involving the Nielsen People Meter panel and Simulmedia's set-top box (STB) viewing data, which represents 50 million viewers.

"We're committed to delivering solutions that drive business benefits for our clients," said Steve Hasker, Nielsen's president of global product leadership. “Big and small. Global and local. Across and within platforms. This initiative with Simulmedia signifies an important Nielsen move to seek out innovation to bring meaningful insights to our clients and the industry.”

This is the second time the two companies have collaborated. In October 2013, Simulmedia entered into a license agreement with Nielsen to integrate Nielsen Buyer Insights into the Simulmedia Audience (News - Alert) Insights Database to augment TV viewer behavioral insights. Nielsen Buyer Insights combines actual TV viewing with anonymized panelist purchasing behavior representative of 24 billion transactions, $2 trillion in annual sales primarily from the retail, travel, digital, restaurant, entertainment, financial services, telecom, discount store and gas station categories.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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