TV Summit: Programmers, Distributors in Tug of War Over Access to Viewing Data

There’s no hotter commodity in the programming business these days than data.

The tidal wave of demographic and viewing data that is collected by various players in the multiplatform world has become the Holy Grail for programmers who are desperate to better understand the massive shift in audience behavior in recent years. But like the Holy Grail, data can also be frustratingly elusive. Programming execs participating in Variety’s TV Summit on Wednesday at Century City’s Intercontinental Hotel stressed those who gather the data — MVPDs, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, YouTube et al — need to do a better job of sharing it with content providers if online viewing experiences are to improve.

Distributors, of course, know that all that data that flows in to their networks and headends has financial value — and therein lies the tension. Not to mention raising a host of privacy questions for consumers. But media execs are salivating to study more details on demographics and viewing habits.

“The longer there is a territorial approach to data the longer the set-top box will be the dumbest viewing experience,” said Mike Biard (pictured), prexy of distribution for Fox Networks. He called for MVPDs to adopt a more “collaborative” approach with programmers in offering insights into how shows are consumed on new platforms. Otherwise, he said, the cable set-top box technology will most likely remained mired in 1990s technology, because it will take the skills of programmers and distribs to brainstorm more user-friendly applications.

HBO Go is the gold standard for traditional TV authenticated viewing services, but even HBO is frustrated by the limits of the specific data they’re able to access about what viewers watch. That’s put a “limitation on how much we can personalize the product,” said Shelley Wright Brindle, exec VP of domestic distribution for HBO. She noted that Netflix, with its proprietary platform, has a wealth of information about individual users that it uses to great advantage.

“Netflix can make it seem like they have a lot more content than they do” by pushing recommendations to viewers derived from data on shows they’ve already watched. “We somewhat have our hands tied behind our back. We can’t do that,” Brindle said.

Thai Randolph, VP of consumer marketing for Generator, said greater sharing of viewing data should benefit all stakeholders in the booming Internet vid biz.

“We need to make sure that those who have it can leverage it,” Randolph said. “We need to make it easy to analyze and (take) action on it.” That’s how programmers and distributors will figure out who is engaging with content and better ways to monetize that activity.

Twitter is prepared to lift the veil for its partners, particularly as it courts the TV biz for partnerships that will drive new revenue to the company. “We’re peeling back a little bit more to add individual layers” of information, said Benjamin Fieldler, Twitter’s senior account executive. “We’re trying to do more on our side to make that information a little more actionable.”

Sibyl Goldman, Facebook’s head of entertainment partnerships, said the social media giant is well aware of the value of the data from its 800 million-plus worldwide users is to media and entertainment companies.

“We’re always trying to provide the best, most useful and timely data,” Goldman said. Facebook offers “such a hugely representative sample of America’s TV viewers.”

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