Here's some interesting information from a recent interview with Steve Tranter, Director of Interactive Delivery for NDS Americas:
[itvt]: Any other new features you've recently added or are planning to add to MediaHighway?
Tranter: One new feature that was launched in the last version of the middleware and has now actually been implemented on a number of pay-TV platforms is our audience measurement system. We have a very robust way of measuring usage on the set-top box, and then securely storing and reporting back that data. Basically any specific type of button press that you want to track can be tracked: it's down to the platform operator how this feature is utilized--and how they utilize it on each channel usually has to do with their specific carriage deals and legislation.
Among other things, it allows them to get very accurate measurement of interactive services. If you're offering a game, for example, you want to know how many people are actually playing it; how often they're playing it; whether they're playing it after the second level or just stop at that point because it becomes too onerous; whether they're skipping various features of the game; and so forth. Obviously, this kind of detailed measurement of viewers' interactions with an application provides you with very useful feedback. So our middleware allows operators to collect all this data on the set-top box, and it's usually encrypted and anonymized, depending on the privacy laws of each country, and then fed back via the return-path mechanism, such as a telephone line or a DOCSIS modem.
[itvt]: Which operators are taking advantage of this measurement feature?
Tranter: DirecTV are using it and BSkyB has been using it for at least a year now. They're currently using it to measure usage in a focus group of about 20,000 set-tops, which I believe they are going to ramp up to about 100,000 homes. They're using it to ascertain viewing of their programming, of course, and also to track things like how their guide is used and how their interactive applications are used.
[itvt]: Why are they only planning to measure usage in 100,000 households? Why not measure usage for their entire subscriber base?
Tranter: They could implement this for their entire audience base, but 100,000 is such a statistically significant sample that they don't really need to.
So basically, what we know now is, how DIRECTV can collect this information, what information DIRECTV can collect (EVERYTHING!!!!), and about how many people they collect this info from. And from this info, you could probably conclude that DIRECTV probably only collects the What's Hot info from a few hundred boxes and calls it enough. Case closed, I think.
And let me just ETA to say that this interview is amazing if you want to see what could be possible in DIRECTV's future. Things like way more advanced interactive content and P2P sharing!