Publishers Have to Pay Up to Track Their Audiences on Distributed Platforms

And ComScore Measurement of Apple News Is Still Pending

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Publishers are pursuing distributed publishing platforms like Facebook's Instant Articles program.
Publishers are pursuing distributed publishing platforms like Facebook's Instant Articles program. Credit: Facebook

Publishers are increasingly coming around to the idea of a distributed future. They're re-allocating resources to build teams that produce content for specific social platforms, and they're giving away articles on platforms like Apple News, Facebook and Flipboard, hoping to make money by selling ads against them there instead of just linking back to their own sites.

Not wanting to undermine the apparent size of their audiences, publishers have taken comfort in promises that their traffic on these platforms would count toward audience measurement tallies from third-party companies such as ComScore. But some have been disappointed to find that "keeping" the traffic they earn that way comes at an additional cost.

There are unique technical challenges to implenting ComScore tracking on each specific platform, and publishers are being asked to underwrite the extra services.

An executive at one medium-sized publisher was displeased to learn that it would cost $15,000, per platform, per year, to add such tracking capabilities. An executive at another similar-sized publisher said it received a quote in the same ballpark. A third executive, who was also piqued by the charge, mentioned a price range between $10,000 and $20,000.

The pricing for Apple News, moreover, is still essentially theoretical; more on that below.

Volume discounts may apply to pricing for ComScore's distributed publishing tracking, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Many publishers are already paying for measurement of their main sites by ComScore, which is seen as the gold standard of digital audience measurement. The company has previously offered add-on services for distributed platforms; it began tracking and including YouTube audiences in 2011.

One publisher, citing a rate card from mid-2014, said the base entry fee for Media Metrix Core Reports (U.S.), which ComScore describes as "the industry's common currency for measuring audience composition and performance within key user segments," is $55,000. From there, publishers can sign up for additional reporting packages that range between $15,000 and $55,000.

(Quantcast, a competitor, offers a free cross-platform audience measurement called Quantcast Measure. SimilarWeb, another such service, offers a variety of paid subscription packages.)

A ComScore marketing representative said the company doesn't discuss pricing, but described it as generally customizable, "not a one-size-fits-all." Cost factors include what the publisher hopes to track and how many people plan to use the service.

One issue for some publishers is the fact that ComScore doesn't yet include Apple News audiences. In November 2015, an Apple spokeswoman told Digiday that ComScore would be integrated "very soon." In December, Re/code reported: "Apple says it is turning on an integration with ComScore, the Web traffic counter, so publishers can get advertiser credit for the views their content generates."

Publishers are still waiting. An Apple representative confirmed that ComScore reporting will arrive "in the coming months." One digital media executive told Ad Age that it would finally happen in March. A ComScore representative declined to comment on the timelime.

Apple's ability to track Apple News audiences has faced obstacles since the product debuted in September. In early January, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple "mistakenly has been underestimating the number of readers using the News app since its launch, and passing that inaccurate information on to publishers."

Around that time, Apple turned off data reporting for its publishing partners. The analytics dashboard for publishers was turned back on a couple of weeks ago, after the issue was resolved, the Apple representative said.

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