WEB RIVALS' PLAN TO MERGE DRAWS CHEERS MEDIA METRIX TO STANDARDIZE METHODOLOGY

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Media buyers and sellers applauded the merger plans of Media Metrix and RelevantKnowledge last week, but said much work still needs to be done to improve Web measurement.

New York-based Media Metrix and Atlanta-based RelevantKnowledge said they would merge, leaving only NetRatings as a major competitor in the Web audience measurement field.

The merged company will keep the name Media Metrix with the tagline "The Power of RelevantKnowledge." The brand identity was developed with the help of InterBrand Gerstman & Meyers, New York. Officials said no office closures or staff cuts were planned.

Media Metrix does not have an agency of record; RelevantKnowledge's AOR has been Anderson & Lembke, New York, which handled its 1997 print and online launch campaign. Media Metrix is now evaluating its marketing and advertising strategy for the combined company, said Mary Ann Packo, who remains president-chief operating office of Media Metrix.

"The industry-including agencies, advertisers and publishers-has been focusing on the need for a standard audience-measurement service to help propel the growth of the medium," said Ms. Packo.

COMBINATION MAKES SENSE

"Our services had different [rankings of Web sites] and there has not been a standard [measurement system]. As such, it made total sense for us to combine our services, methodologies and resources to define a standard," she said.

Richy Glassberg, senior VP-general manager of Turner Interactive Sales, has been an outspoken critic of Web measurement services, but applauded the merger.

"Any initiative that moves us one step closer towards creating a standardized Web-measurement system is a positive and tremendous step for this industry." However, Mr. Glassberg said, "They need to take immediate action to resolve what is in my opinion the biggest issue of them all right now: the issue of workplace measurement. Currently, there is no system for measuring that marketplace."

"Beyond that, I would hope they'd take a hard look at the issue of reconciling site log data-actual audited usage-with panel demographic data," he added.

The discrepancy between publishers' own server data that shows the number of visits to a site and data from the measurement companies has been one of the most contentious issues in the industry, with Web sites using ranking lists to sell ads. Often, Web sites' own server data shows higher traffic than that reported from outside measurement companies.

Jeff Levy, CEO of RelevantKnowledge who will be vice chairman of Media Metrix, said reconciling publishers' server data with the measurement company's panel data is a key priority for Media Metrix. Another priority is expanding the business panel, which has 2,500 people as a result of the merger.

CALLING CORPORATE AMERICA

"We need to enlist the help of corporate America to be part of the solution," said Mr. Levy, adding that many companies forbid employees from downloading tracking software necessary for panelists.

The combined total panel size of Media Metrix will be 40,000 monthly, or in-tab, users. About 18,000 to 19,000 are active Web users.

RelevantKnowledge has used only random-digit dialing to recruit panelists, while Media Metrix has used a combination of random-digit dialing and direct mail. Rival NetRatings uses random-digit dialing and online recruiting.

NetRatings, with an average in-tab panel of 4,000, says the merger raises concerns.

"They're merging a self-selected panel with a [random-digit dial] panel," said David Toth, president-CEO of NetRatings, Milpitas, Calif. "It seems the results will be less than the pure [research methodology] level that RelevantKnowledge has expounded on."

Ms. Packo said, however, names for the direct mail recruiting Media Metrix uses are randomly selected.

Mr. Toth also said integrating the different technologies will be a challenge.

To integrate the panels and technologies, Media Metrix will combine the best of both services to come up with a standard measurement system, said Ms. Packo.

DATA TO BE COMBINED

Beginning in November, Media Metrix will combine the two sets of data from each service to provide a consolidated Web report; during the next three to six months, it will roll out new services, including integrated reports on other digital media that Media Metrix measures, including America Online, PointCast, Juno and other interactive media.

It also plans to roll out by the end of the year Web Express, a weekly reporting system that will be available online and in print.

"This is a very good thing," said Lynn Bolger, senior VP-Web media director at Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, a Media Metrix client.

"Now they can concentrate on building a worthwhile and methodologically sound service instead of ripping each other apart."

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