INTERACTIVE: YAHOO! TAPS ABVS AND ERNST &YOUNG FOR AUDITS: OTHERS START TO RETHINK STRATEGY FOR MEASUREMENT

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Yahoo!'s decision to use ABVS Interactive and Ernst & Young to audit its Web sites may signal the start of a major battle for Web auditing allegiances.

Yahoo!, the first-ever auditing client of Internet Profiles Corp., said last week it will end that relationship this summer.

Yahoo! wanted to "strategically change the way we audit and certify our sites," said Jeff Mallett, senior VP-business operations. "We decided it was best to move away from the model of sending files to an independent source," which is the way I/Pro operates.

BLOW TO I/PRO

Ernst & Young will certify Yahoo!'s in-house measurement system, while ABVS, a subsidiary of Audit Bureau of Circulations, will audit site usage reports.

The switch was a blow to I/Pro, which is negotiating new 12-month contracts with many of its auditing clients. Several major clients, including CNN, Starwave Corp., Infoseek and Excite, are known to be reviewing their options.

"We're actively entertaining proposals from ABVS, BPA [International] and I/Pro," said Rich LeFurgy, VP-marketing and advertising with Starwave.

"We are looking at everybody in the marketplace," said Richy Glassberg, VP-general manager of Turner Interactive Marketing & Sales. "We're not really pleased with the current offerings."

I/Pro has signed several existing clients, including Ziff-Davis and USA Today, to new contracts, said Tim Reed, director of marketing and business development.

ABVS, meanwhile, has marketed its service aggressively. It has doubled its client roster to 56 since November, in part because it offers a lower price point than I/Pro.

PRICING AN ISSUE

I/Pro's basic audit starts at $750 per month for smaller sites. ABVS' lowest price is $400.

Pricing is an issue for Web publishers because the value of an audit verifying traffic has changed considerably in the past year. New ad tracking services that provide real-time data have negated much of the benefit of an audit.

I/Pro is working hard to keep its clients.

"They are definitely in the ballpark [on pricing]," Mr. LeFurgy said. "The unfortunate thing is it was their business to lose, and now they have to justify

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