Comcast may be selling data from viewers to boost advertising

 (Image via Set-Top Box User Manual)

(Image via Set-Top Box User Manual)

Comcast is reportedly in the process of selling viewing data from the top-set boxes of millions of subscribers to help boost TV advertising.

The Philadelphia-based company hopes to sell the information about watching habits to networks including ESPN and Time Warner, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The idea is that top-set boxes contain loads of specific information. The kind of stuff that gets advertising companies excited because it allows ads to be more targeted and based on the viewer’s behavior. It can be used “to answer such questions as which shows have the highest proportion of viewers who are shopping for a car. Such a service could command a premium ad rate, the thinking goes,” according to the paper.

Analysts say harvesting watching data will help Comcast compete with Google and Facebook, where advertisers have been increasingly flocking. 

But attorney Harold Feld with the group Public Knowledge is worried about the move.

“If you say, ‘Google does it, Facebook does it, what’s the harm? Facebook is giving me something for free.’ When last I checked, Comcast is not giving me video for free,” Feld said. “If Comcast would like to have a deal where, in exchange for my personal information, they give me the cable service for free, then we can talk.”

Feld also had concerns that many customers won’t even know it’s happening, saying that cable companies are especially good at making it difficult to opt out of services.

He offered a potential hypothetical.

“Comcast sends you your annual billing statement and, buried in all that paper, there’s something that says, ‘By the way, we’re gonna do this now. If you’d like to opt out, call this phone number and stay on hold for your hours and eventually someone will hang up on you, but if you get through to someone, you can opt out,” he said.

Networks are hoping data from on-demand and watching on mobile devices will show viewership strength and improve overall ratings – which have been sagging in recent years due to the decline in traditional TV viewers.

Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said the company uses data to help make TV programming and advertising easier to measure. 

“We don’t provide raw data, but are able to deliver to others such as TV networks or advertisers, reports based on aggregate and anonymous information that is not identifiable to a particular person,” she said. 

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