Here's a brief primer on how home viewing has been traditionally measured:
At the outset of home viewing, the ad supported model took hold and it was part of the institutionalized Nielsen system – what we all know as the barometer by which ads are sold and series are judged.
As the VHS and DVD came to bear, viewership tracking adapted to include DVD rental and sales. With a Rentrak subscription you can pull up most of the market on a DVD (aside from Wal-Mart in some cases), but overall the system is an accurate measurement tool.
But as we all know, home viewing has shifted from an ad supported model to one of digital transactions and subscription viewing. There is no ratings equivalent in this space, no title-specific tracking system available to all data subscribers about "on demand."
Cable VOD viewership is tracked and I have some numbers to share on that in a minute. But for the moment this space is equivalent to a landfill in an earthquake - all the patterns go haywire. We - as the subscribers to the data - can't track performance across media at even a title level when it comes to the cable VOD platform.
We are able to get data on our titles if we are the network or distribution company, but the data is not transparent like Nielsen or Rentrak’s data across the industry. We have experienced the day-and-date boom (starting in 2007) and bust to independent film and still we have no system of reporting.
If you're lucky enough to be on the other side of a movie's release, you may have some additional data -- the accounting statement can be a hefty tool into this fuzzy world. But in many ways, information actually gets even more confusing and frustrating because the data - what the revenues are from various platforms and windows during which your film has been exploited - are lumped imperceptibly together into a few seemingly simple categories that aren't telling us enough.
We don't know if more people bought a film at $2.99 vs. $12.99, we don't know if they loved it so much that had to own a digital copy or if they just were happy to stream it. And we don't know if it over-indexed on iTunes like "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop" and "Marley"; or found more of an audience on cable VOD like maybe "Joan Rivers"; or whether it ran a more or less consistent audience, evergreen on Hulu like, say, "Super Size Me."
I am not citing actual performances here – maybe making educated guesses – but that’s exactly it. I can still only guess.
If we could make even the simplest of connections, we could learn things. But of course, the platforms are learning, and the scariest part of all is that they are learning how much to pay for our content.
I think one of the reasons why this lack of reporting gets little attention is because if you look at the digital space in general -- and by that I'm primarily referring to the web -- the metrics business is presumably thriving.
Dozens of information systems like comScore, Mass Relevance, Google analytics, Klout, ContentID and ZEFR have cropped up that literally measure every click of online activity - online or fan - and every shade of gray of relevance among taste-makers.
But when comparing these tools to what is available on the "on demand" platforms we're discussing today, the black holes are really overwhelming.