Sinclair VP: ATSC 3.0 will allow us to ditch Nielsen, save millions

Sony at IBC 2016

Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group, sees a big financial upside to ATSC 3.0’s potential for collecting and analyzing viewership data.

“If we weren’t stuck with Nielsen and their reading of the tea leaves, we’d have tens of millions of extra dollars in our pocket,” Aitken told FierceBroadcasting, adding that the situation between broadcasters and Nielsen has been lopsided for a long time.

He called Nielsen’s process “imprecise” and said it’s often easy to prove how “eschew” the numbers are.

In addition to Nielsen, Sinclair also uses Rentrak, which he said in many ways offers a richer set of data. But Sinclair is still in the process of building up its own data analytics group and working with partners like Sorenson Media.

“When you have a sampling of tens of millions of smart TVs, you start getting a different view of the world,” Aitken said.

Aitken’s details about the data capturing future for Sinclair and other broadcasters coincide with a recent announcement from Sinclair and its subsidiary One Media 3.0 that they would be shifting their ATSC 3.0 development focus toward receiver design and data collection.

"This is about knowing the truth regarding who is watching, what they're watching and when they're watching," said David Smith, president and CEO of Sinclair, in a statement. "Data gathering, measurement and behavior is too important for us not to have a reliable system and there is an immediacy to have this in place to coincide with the rollout of ATSC 3.0.  Sinclair and One Media 3.0 intend to build it and make it available to the industry.  We are currently working with device manufacturers and will shortly identify a test market in which to conduct live field trials."

Sinclair expects that, after ATSC 3.0 is deployed, it will be not constrained by buying someone else’s guesswork, according to Aitken. He said Sinclair will have the capability to sample almost all users and viewers and it will be Sinclair’s data.

Aitken said Sinclair and other broadcasters will need to create confidence in data and then turn it into currency that can be traded for advertising revenue. But once they are able to do that, the cost for broadcasters to capture and analyze their own data sets will be less than what third-party services charge.

Aitken said Sinclair already collects a lot of its own data, largely through the CMS operated by its Seattle-based digital team. So it’s a matter of merging in a meaningful way the activities that are going on in digital with broadcasting, Aitken said.

In addition to the work Sinclair is doing to develop audience data collection with the ATSC 3.0 standards set, the broadcaster is also working to build profiles and requirements for ATSC 3.0 receiver designs.

“The focus is on turning this into a complete platform,” Aitken said, pointing out that broadcasters emit TV signals from their towers but leave it up to other independent industries to capture those signals.

“Because we don’t deal with it as a system, there a flaws,” Aitken said, comparing it to buying pay-TV service from Dish Network and then picking out your satellite dish, the LNB, and the noise figure. “It wouldn’t happen.”

“With [ATSC 3.0] there’s an opportunity to define the entirety of the landscape, not just a piece,” Aitken said.