Don’t Be Shocked That Comcast Wants to Sell Your Data

It may just save the cable TV industry.



It may seem creepy, but Comcast is reportedly in talks to license TV-watching data it collects about its customer base. Why trust Nielsen ratings and its sample of 25,000 households when you can get data about the viewing habits of 18 to 22 million subscribers? If that weren’t enough, Comcast counts its streaming apps, while Nielsen doesn’t.

News about Comcast’s potential plan to license its data came to light in a Wall Street Journal story Tuesday morning. It says that Comcast is “in talks with audience-measurement firms and television networks, including Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting and Discovery Communications Inc., about licensing its data to them.” The company already licenses data to subsidiary NBCUniversal, the WSJ reported.

With more and more subscribers switching to the higher-tech X1 set top boxes, Comcast can track more advanced data, according to the WSJ. That puts the company in a unique position to help the struggling cable TV industry, which has been slowly losing subscribers for years to streaming services like Netflix. Comcast has certainly felt the brunt of it — losing 69,000 subscribers in the second quarter of 2015 alone.

While online has targeted ads, TV must still appeal to the masses. But more data can make cable TV ads much more effective. “A TV network could use Comcast’s viewing data, in conjunction with third-party data on buying behavior, to answer such questions as which shows have the highest proportion of viewers who are shopping for a car,” the WSJ says. “Such a service could command a premium ad rate, the thinking goes.”

Will Comcast license its own data to a select few? Will it license the data widely to make advertisers happy? Will it pool its data with the data of other big cable companies? Will it just keep the data to itself?

Nothing is set in stone at the moment, it appears. The WSJ, citing people familiar with the matter, say Comcast is “still formulating its data strategy, including price and technology.”