Who's the Nielsen of the Net? Right Now, No One

Media Buyers Are Growing Impatient for Universal Web Video-Ratings Service

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Helio, the Korean-born 3G phone network, launches in July it'll target digital-savvy teens and 20-somethings with a flight of ads on MTV and a slew of exclusive content on MTV's broadband channel, Overdrive.
Most sites report their own streaming video and download traffic, but there is no standard, accredited ratings service for online video as there is for TV.
Most sites report their own streaming video and download traffic, but there is no standard, accredited ratings service for online video as there is for TV.

It'll be easy enough for Helio's agency, Deutsch, Los Angeles, to figure out what it's getting from the TV part of the campaign -- Nielsen will report gross ratings points against the youthful demographic Helio wants. But to get similar metrics with the online video buy -- well, the agency will have to back into a GRP through a series of about a half-dozen calculations.

"We know [online video] traffic is getting up there, close to a cable rating point in some cases," said Patrick Benson, senior VP-director of digital marketing, DeutschMedia. But figuring that traffic isn't easy.

ComScore's nascent service
Most sites report their own streaming video and download traffic, but there is no standard, accredited ratings service for online video as there is for TV. Many agencies subscribe to the ComScore Video Metrix service to verify the numbers publishers report, but it's still a nascent service and certainly not yet the currency for buying and selling online video as Nielsen is with TV. And because sites tend to report total traffic rather than individual users and demographics, it's hard for advertisers to do apples-to-apples comparisons with TV, which is becoming more important as advertisers spread their media budgets across various types of video.

Clearly, the web is a different animal than TV, said Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, who has long advocated the need for such a service. Nielsen is a mutually, although sometimes reluctantly, agreed-upon industry standard for TV. But TV is all video. When you move to online, you've got content that's the equivalent of print, audio and video games. "It makes it difficult to plan," he said. "We've got great tools at our disposal for destinations on the web, but when it comes to video, which is essentially a component, that's where the drop off exists."

Trying to shore that up is ComScore, which in January signed a deal with Broadband Enterprises, a major broadband-video syndicator, to create ratings points for the company's various online videos. The deal is not exclusive, and ComScore is also working to increase the number of sites for which it delivers rich audience data -- currently it only delivers it for the top 100 sites -- but it didn't disclose a specific timeline.

"We want to create a service that's universal," said Erin Hunter, senior VP-media and entertainment at ComScore. ComScore has not yet gotten industry accreditation but has begun the process.

Tracking all video incarnations
Tracey Scheppach, VP-video innovations director at Starcom, said the problem is much bigger than simply tackling online video. She challenges the media industry to create "one accurate third-party system" that can offer ratings for all of video's various incarnations -- TV, online video and VOD.

"TV still holds the largest bucket of ad dollars -- the more [online video measurement] looks like TV and talks like TV, the faster it'll be able to dip into that bigger bucket," said Ms. Scheppach.

Nielsen recently announced it will begin adding NetRatings measurement software to the laptops and PCs of its national and local metered households so that it can measure TV and internet use in a single sample. But right now Nielsen/NetRatings measures mostly site traffic -- not the kind of robust streaming data that advertisers need to fairly compare TV to online video.

Ms. Scheppach warned online video had better step up or risk losing share to cable, whose measurement system has the potential to be the most accurate, thanks to set-top box data. Cable operators, incidentally, are in the best position to handle both TV and VOD ratings, although their systems weren't originally set up to gather such data and getting even rudimentary VOD information such as page views and length of tune-in has proved to be a slow process.
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