Fox Stations Partner With Rentrak to Expand Ratings Data

UPDATED: The first owned-and-operated group to use the research, based on actual viewing on cable and satellite, will also continue to get Nielsen data for the time being.

Fox television's 28 stations in 18 markets nationwide have become the first network owned and operated group that will get daily local-market television ratings research from Rentrak.

Under the long-term agreement announced Wednesday, Fox expects to receive even more precise viewing data than what is available from Nielsen, the traditional leader in TV ratings. Fox, at least for now, will also continue to get Nielsen numbers.

The reason the data is expected to be even more accurate is that almost all of Rentak's numbers come directly from cable TV and satellite viewers set-top boxes (with some numbers also extrapolated for nonpaying subscribers). Rentrak gets minute by minute data directly from about 13.5 million homes, thanks to deals with major cable and satellite systems.

Nielsen uses a sampling system, where they measure viewing in around 30,000 U.S. homes which they then use to project out viewership and provide ratings. Both Nielsen and Rentrak provide a total household rating, as well as viewing based on age groups (such as 18-49 year olds) and the sex of the viewer.

What Fox will now be able to access in addition is Rentrak's StationView Essentials software and TV ratings information that matches up the viewing data with things like automobile ownership, retail sales activity and even the political parties of the viewers -- all done anonymously.

Rentrak will tell the stations how many people watched a commercial and then compare it to how many watched a commercial later in the show. Steve Walsh, executive vp local TV for Rentrak, called their system "more precise, more stable and more representative."

While Fox is the first major station group to contract with Rentrak, the company already provides similar data to others, including stations owned by Post Newsweek, Hubbard, Nexstar and Sinclair. Walsh estimates they now work with about 345 TV stations nationwide.

To get the data about consumer behavior and politics Rentrak works with third-party vendors. For instance, it has a deal with Polk automotive, which will tell the stations what kind of car the viewer has and how long they have had it (both key to whether they will be buying a car any time soon).

For consumer purchases, they are able to match up what kind of major purchase that viewer has made.

In the political realm, Rentrak can tell the stations the political registration of the viewer and political affiliations for the neighborhood -- again all done anonymously. The Fox station group management is closely aligned with the Fox News and Fox Business channels who may also be able to use such data.

"We are happy to have immediate access to Rentrak's Advanced Demographics data," said Jack Abernethy, CEO of the Fox Television Stations. "More importantly, we expect this will accelerate the long-overdue progress toward an accurate digital measuring system in local TV, one based on a census, not estimates, and one that measures all screens."

"We are excited to welcome FOX as the first owned-and-operated Network TV group to go 'all-in' with Rentrak," added Rentrak vice chairman and CEO  Bill Livek. "We look forward to helping Fox grow their business using the power of Rentrak's census-like measurements and our advanced demographics."

In response to the Fox-Rentrak announcement, Nielsen stated: "Nielsen has a rich history with Fox working on all aspects of media measurement – traditional, digital and qualitative.  We continue to offer metrics, developed with world-class measurement science, upon which the media and advertising industries transact with confidence. We believe that the evolution of the business and the creation of new and innovative ways to measure the market are essential to the long-term growth of the industry. As we are doing this fall with the launch of the first true cross-platform product which will roll mobile TV measurement into the television ratings, we will continue to adopt new measurement technologies and data sets as they improve to the point where they meet our high standards."