Since the earliest days of television, Nielsen has ruled the TV audience-measuring roost. Using a combination of set meters, code readers, and personal diaries, they have collected Americans’ viewing habits and sold the data to networks and advertisers. But they’re in trouble now.
By the end of this year, three-fourths of all households in the U.S. will have smart TVs with Samba pre-installed.
Samba has paid all the major television manufacturers to install their software, which suggests shows you are probably interested in, based on what you’ve been watching. They make their real money selling the detailed tracking data they have on more than 13 million viewers. Their tracking is real-time, so advertisers get it immediately, instead of waiting for Nielsen reports. It is more accurate, too.
Samba has the additional ability to recognize and identify all your devices that use the same internet connection as your TV.
This goes far beyond viewing habits. Samba tracks you wherever you go and uses your TV watching data to send ads to your phones, tablets, and laptops. It is unlikely these were the kinds of “special offers” you had in mind when you agreed to opt in. Executives say more than 90% of users of smart TVs opted in, but for what? David Kitchen, a London software engineer, said “You appear to opt into a discovery-recommendation service, but what you’re really opting into is pervasive monitoring.” On their website, Samba makes no bones about where the real value lies, promising advertisers they can “Discover what TV audiences are watching and activate data- and device- syncing across screens to amplify media investments.”
It’s the kind of thing A.I. is best at.