Industry groups join to set standards for Web metrics

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In an effort to resolve audience measurement issues facing online advertisers, the Internet Measurement Initiative has joined forces with the 65-year-old Advertising Research Foundation.

The partnership, announced last week, is the latest move by advertising trade groups to solve thorny measurement problems that have plagued the industry since the Web gained momentum as an advertising vehicle in the mid-90s.

Other trade groups, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Wireless Advertising Association and the now-defunct Future of Advertising Stakeholders, have attempted to set guidelines for online audience measurement. Advertisers want standardized methods to count audiences on Web sites and place value on these audiences.

"Historically, audience measurement was making and breaking deals, and making and breaking IPOs [initial public offerings]," said Peter Fuller, who founded the IMI last year and will remain as a consultant to the organization. "There are huge discrepancies among the metrics firms themselves, and we wanted to get the leading industries together and create a forum for discussion on the issues."

IMI members include leading online measurement companies, Web publishers, ad agencies, advertisers, auditors and infrastructure providers.

Standardization makes sense

Jim Spaeth, president of the ARF, said the partnership makes sense because "it’s counterproductive to have more than one group working on standards."

Spaeth chaired the online measurement committee of FAST, a coalition of Web advertisers, publishers, ad agencies and technology companies that eventually was spun off into a group called the Digital Marketing and Commerce Coalition.

However, Spaeth said, that coalition has not done much since FAST disbanded, and the new IMI effort will bring life back to the original FAST goal of fixing online measurement problems.

The IMI group will become the ARF’s new Digital Media Measurement Council, which is having its first meeting in New York this week. It will work with other trade groups—such as the IAB, and FAST Europe, which is still in existence—to create guidelines for measuring online audiences, including how to define the online universe and how measurement companies should recruit panelists who are representative of the universe.

IMI hopes to have the first draft of the guidelines ready to present at the IAB’s Aug. 7 meeting in New York.

Cari Weissberg, VP-interactive media director at Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos Inc., Boston, said guidelines would reduce much of the bickering between Web advertising buyers and sellers due to discrepancies in the number of ad impressions delivered after a campaign.

"No one will ever see eye to eye, but it would minimize a lot of the conversations that happen when you’re nickel-and-diming about a couple of thousand impressions," she said.

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