Digital Planet, the multimedia developer that created popular Web sites for MCA/Universal Pictures, AT&T and MGM/UA Distribution, last week opened NetCount, a company that will track usage of World Wide Web sites and consult on the best places for sponsors.
The company is testing its software with Young & Rubicam, MCA, MGM and CMP Publications' Interactive Age and plans to roll out the service by July.
NetCount joins a burgeoning list of entrepreneurs and established names looking to tell marketers and media companies how many people are visiting their Web sites and how long they're staying. It's a wide-open field that fills a crucial need in the fledgling Internet marketing industry.
"It makes sense to pay for a link just like you pay for an ad or a billboard," said Paul Grand, CEO of Culver City, Calif.-based Digital Planet and NetCount. "The problem is it's hard to measure how many hits were on the page that had the ad [or] the link to your site."
Marketers are testing the value of creating such "links"-paying a Web publisher like Time Inc.'s Pathfinder or HotWired to place an icon on the publisher's site; when clicked, the icon takes users to the advertiser's site.
Mr. Grand's knowledge comes from personal experience. As creator of MCA/Universal Cyberwalk (http://www.mca.com), MGM/United Artists' Lion's Den (http://www.mgmua.com) and AT&T's new "Stories" site (http://www.att.com/stories), he said he became frustrated by the lack of good site traffic measurement tools.
NetCount's software will be able to provide data on traffic broken down by subject, page, day and hour. The company will track how many visits a site received and how long each visit was, but will not supply specific data such as a user's e-mail address or name, due to privacy concerns.
NetCount also hopes to work as a matchmaker for Web sites and marketers, assessing a site's media value and suggesting appropriate places for marketers to advertise depending on their target audience and budget.
Mr. Grand said the company will charge Web sites a figure "in the hundreds of dollars" per month to be measured. Advertisers will pay substantially more for consulting and tracking capabilities.
"The one thing we don't have is an understanding of what the value is of links from site to site or what the value is of sites in general," said John Hegeman, VP-marketing administration at MGM/UA. "Something like NetCount will give you a better understanding .*.*. from a real numbers perspective."
Another company, Internet Profiles Corp., Palo Alto, Calif., earlier this month unveiled a similar tracking system.
I/Pro plans to eventually provide specific demographic data about Web users, but won't assume the media buyer function NetCount aspires to.
The big names in traditional-media ratings also are eyeing the Internet. Arbitron is part of a consortium that plans to track "clickstreams," the number of clicks on a TV remote control or computer mouse. Nielsen Media Research, meanwhile, is investigating several possibilities.
While Internet content providers admit the need for Web-traffic measurement, some question whether NetCount should be acting as both the Nielsen of the online world and a media buyer.
"It's not going to come across so well that the company supplying the ratings is also the person selling" ad space, said Shane Ankeney, media research supervisor at J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago.
Others say the right tracking software already exists and can be found by smart agencies and marketers.
"It's really amazing that someone can make a business out of this," said John Nardone, director of consumer products at interactive agency Modem Media, Westport, Conn. "It sounds like they're taking the technology that's available and packaging it up."
Still, the need for such services is clear. After Mr. Grand introduced NetCount at last week's Online Marketplace I conference in Chicago, sponsored by consultancy Jupiter Communications Co., audience members were asked if they'd be interested in using it. Nearly half responded.