CurrentTV, Fox Biz: How About Those Ratings?

Small cable networks take note: Your free pass on ratings could be a thing of the past. At least one major media buyer, Starcom USA, is serving notice that it won’t do some ad deals with cable networks that don’t get rated by Nielsen unless they see some viewing data first.

The Publicis-owned media buyer, which buys set-top box viewing data from TiVo (TIVO) and from TNS, is going to start consulting the data for small cable channels. Said Starcom:

In prior years, standard industry practice has been to negotiate TV buys from unrated networks based on estimates from those networks and disparate sources. The availability of second-by-second data from companies such as TNS, in its alignment with Charter and DirecTV (DTV), allow for national performance metrics for these previously unrated networks and reveal never-before-seen insights into behaviours of those networks’ audiences.

Since Nielsen ratings are derived from a sample of 14,000 homes, most startup cable networks spend at least the first few years of their existence unrated. The sample just isn’t good enough to pick up small audiences, especially for networks with limited distribution. Thus, the uptake of real-time set-top box data. Nielsen itself is getting into this line of business, striking a deal for data earlier this week with Charter Communications (CHTR).

Who’s this going to affect? Channels like Current TV, News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox Business, The Tennis Channel, Ovation, Sprout, AmericanLive Network and the like. Starcom SVP for cable Natalie Conway tells AdAge set-top data will become the “first option” for judging a network’s perfomance.

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