Bureau quietly marshalling effort to fix measurement mess
Web audience measurement amounts to a Tower of Babel, with various vendors and Web publishers speaking in a multitude of tongues. The result is confusing advertisers and frustrating online publishers who believe the lack of consistency is costing them revenue.
The IAB’s initial focus is online audience, but it hopes to ultimately standardize ad exposure across all media platforms.
“The ultimate goal is to be able to put media together in ways that are accountable, clear and useful to those who are buying and selling media,” said Sherrill Mane, svp of industry services for the IAB. Mane was careful to say that there was no timeline for an RFP and that the IAB wasn’t out to force its will on the big measurement companies like Nielsen and comScore. But she stressed that the IAB’s initiative was broader than previous efforts to improve media measurement.
The initiative builds on years of frustration with the state of online measurement and efforts to improve it. Two years ago, the IAB put out voluntary guidelines to define key terms like unique users and set standards for measuring audience. Online data collectors have been submitting to audits by the Media Ratings Council, a nonprofit tasked with validating measurement across all media, after the IAB took them to task for not doing so. comScore has created a hybrid traffic measurement approach that blends the common methods of panel- and server data–based measurement.
But advertisers still face a plethora of audience numbers for any given site. “There’s a lot of confusion out there,” said Brad Adgate, svp research, Horizon Media. He and others on the buyer and seller side agree: The lack of standardization has undermined advertisers’ confidence in the Web, discouraged them from spending more online and depressed ad rates.
“The limitations and the confusion are very disruptive to our conversation with the client,” said Chris Hiland, president of media networks at Geomentum, a hyper-local marketing unit of IPG. “When you see a different number on the ad server and a different number on a log-based server, you don’t have confidence, and that keeps spend rates down,” said Dave Morgan, founder of Simulmedia, a company that helps TV companies improve the effectiveness of tune-in spots.
Newspapers and magazines are particularly frustrated in their attempts to make up for steep print revenue losses with Web dollars and feel their high-quality content should command higher CPMs online. Local newspapers have it tough because panel-based measurement isn’t well-suited to local sites, resulting in erratic results.
That’s why Mark Contreras is a vocal backer of the IAB’s standardization effort. He’s svp of newspapers for Scripps and chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, which IAB is working with along with the ANA and 4A’s. He said that third-party audience estimates for Scripps’ sites range from 30 million all the way to nearly 100 million.
A result is that Scripps generates $500 annually per print reader but only $75 per online visitor. “The reality is, our brands are reaching more people than they ever have, and that story is nearly impossible to tell,” Contreras said.
Measurement firms say they’re sensitive to the issue. John Burbank, CEO, Nielsen Online, said Nielsen supports the IAB’s work, as standardization is needed if brand advertisers are to move more dollars online. But observers see potential conflict. “[The vendors] have their own proprietary ways of doing things, and there will be some levels of resistance,” Morgan said.
IAB believes that, as with the consumer privacy issue, media companies could face government intervention if they don’t standardize on their own. But Geomentum’s Hiland said if publishers have to start collecting data on their online visitors and requiring them to register, they might end up with more accurate but smaller audience numbers.
“Required registration is going to compromise my traffic,” he said.