'Most Accountable Medium' Needs More Accurate Reporting

IAB Calls for Third-Party Audits on comScore, Nielsen/Netratings

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It's another sign the internet is growing up: The Internet Advertising Bureau is calling on comScore and Nielsen/NetRatings for audited and accredited third-party audience measurement.
The new CEO of the IAB, Randall Rothenberg, wants to improve audience measurement.
The new CEO of the IAB, Randall Rothenberg, wants to improve audience measurement.

This call for audited measurement and more transparency into the measurement processes has been going on for a long time, said Sheryl Drazien, senior VP, IAB. But "it's heating up because marketers are spending more money online now. The need for transparency and accuracy and consistency in how things are being done is important so marketers can have confidence in the medium."

Meeting proposed
In a letter sent today to Nielsen/NetRatings and comScore the IAB proposed a meeting at which the measurement companies would agree to audits and discuss how to move beyond panel-based systems. Neither comScore nor Nielsen/NetRatings are audited by the Media Ratings Council, which audits measurement services for other media, including Nielsen's TV ratings and Arbitron's radio ratings.

"In taking leadership of the IAB after seven years at a global management consulting firm ... I was rather startled to discover that one issue the internet was built to resolve remains a burning platform, 70 years after marketers and media companies first lit the match. That issue is audience measurement," wrote new IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg in the letter.

Marketers use audience measurement services such as comScore and Nielsen/NetRatings as a planning and decision-making tool vs. a currency. Marketers buy impressions, which are reported through such entities as ad servers and site-side analytics companies.

Marketers call for audits
In August, several major marketers, including BMW, Colgate-Palmolive, Ford Motor Co., Hewlett Packard, ING, Kimberly-Clark, Pepsi and Visa, made headlines when they called for impressions to be audited and accredited. The marketers said by 2008 that publishers' ad impressions need to be audited by a third party.

"[ComScore nor Nielsen/NetRatings are] asked to provide full disclosure of their methodologies -- the techniques they use, the number of time people are kept in the sample -- all of this has impact on audience estimates," said Gerard Broussard, managing partner-director of strategic insights and analytics, Mediaedge:cia. "Historically where audits have led is to improvements in syndicated research, which helps advertisers and agencies."

"We're not alone in sharing great frustration with both of them," said Brian Quinn, VP-ad sales and marketing at Dow Jones Online. "Even on our earnings call this week, we quoted Omniture numbers, not Nielsen/NetRatings numbers. And we're seeing more and more publishers do that." (Omniture is an analytics service that provides its customer publishers with audience data.)

He said Dow Jones uses services such as Nielsen Net/Ratings and comScore only for competitive purposes, "so we can have apples to apples with other sites."

Closing the gap
Mr. Rothenberg noted the media industry has long been built on panel-based measurement, using the actions of a selected group to represent those of the entire population, but said it was surprising that the main online audience measurement companies still rely on such methods. He called for them to close the gap between sample and census-based reporting.

Mr. Rothenberg went on: "We in the marketing-media ecosystem have spent too many years trying to clean up the residue of flawed media-research methodologies. We simply cannot let the internet, the most accountable medium ever invented, fall into the same bad customs that have hindered older media and angered advertisers for decades -- customs such as inadequate samples, accepted out of begrudging convenience; or phantom metrics, like 'pass-along readers,' that add shadowy bulk to audiences that cannot be measured directly; or metering technologies and processes that are easy to game."

Undercounting audiences
He charged that third-party measurement companies that use panels are undercounting audiences, in some cases as much as 2 to 3 times, based on comparisons to IAB members' server logs.

When asked whether census-based measurement was realistic, Ms. Drazien said that "we've got to hope for the ideal and work toward something that makes sense for the industry and the business. At the end of the day with the internet there are new advances that we're not seeing being incorporated into how measurement is done. If they keep the same methodology, then at least give us insight into what it is."
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