BuzzFeed, Vice and Group Nine form measurement alliance

Top digital publishers team with Tubular Labs to figure out how to value digital media

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Digital publishers are still trying to figure out social media measurement.
Digital publishers are still trying to figure out social media measurement. Credit: Mary Ellen Forte

BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media and Vice are teaming up to try to solve the nagging puzzle of measurement in digital media.

The three digital publishers are working with Tubular Labs, a social analytics firm, to create new standards for measuring digital media on Facebook, YouTube and other sites. Tubular Labs already gives publishers monthly rankings that show which videos got the most views on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, but it is difficult to define whether those views actually influence audiences. Advertisers want to see exactly what value they get from a video or article they sponsor, not just how many views or clicks they tallied.

"There need to be better ways to measure quality engagement and quality viewership on video," says Ashish Patel, Group Nine's chief insights officer.

One of the hurdles to measuring digital media is that platforms offer different video experiences for viewers and the advertisers trying to reach them. For instance, on YouTube viewers click to play videos, and on Facebook they start automatically in the News Feed. And while a video might have a million views, publishers can't tell how many of those can be attributed to an individual watching it once or multiple times.

Advertisers often fixate on completion rates—how many people get to the end of any piece of media, according to Patel. However, publishers would like to be able to show that even without a completion, a video could have the desired effect, prompting viewers to perhaps further research a product or make a purchase.

There is considerable pressure on media companies to deliver on their business promises, says Allison Stern, co-founder of Tubular Labs. They can show advertisers hundreds of millions of views a month on social media videos, but advertisers aren't consistently realizing a return on those views.

Tubular Labs says it analyzes a trillion video views a month online, a sign of how many resources digital publishers have put into generating video for Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. However, the rush to video has not come with the riches many of these publishers expected.

In fact, last week, BuzzFeed announced a round of layoffs, with Recode reporting that the publisher is looking at possibly merging with Group Nine, which owns NowThis, The Dodo, Thrillist and Seeker. BuzzFeed would not comment on those reports, and the new alliance is not meant to signal any more than a measurement partnership. Vice has also gone through a devaluation of its business and has cut staff. Other publishers have fared worse, like Mic, which closed last year, in part because it gambled on Facebook video as a business model and lost.

"This is a moment for people to come together and these are three of the leaders of digital video," Stern says. "So they banded together with us to figure out how to tell their story in the marketplace."

The publishers and Tubular are framing the new endeavor is an alliance, a unified approach to give advertisers a more cohesive view of the landscape. The new partnership also could give publishers a new way to view their own performance, making it easier to compare how they stack up to the competition.

"We want to help advertisers understand the value of content that gets consumed by people wherever they want to consume it," says Edwin Wong, BuzzFeed's svp of research and insights. "There's a whole new generation of distributed content across social platforms that has not been integrated into traditional measurement."

The alliance is only just forming, and they have not yet articulated exactly how they will solve the measurement problems in digital media, and the publishers aren't certain yet what new metrics they want to create.

Still, it shows the way these publishers are working together in certain areas to make a stronger case to advertisers, who complain they don't know what a view is worth on Facebook as compared to YouTube or Twitter and others. Traditional measurement firms like Nielsen and ComScore have also sought to better quantify the size of audiences and effectiveness of digital media in a space that has become dominated by giants Google and Facebook.

"Measurement capabilities overall have lagged in the industry--and undoubtedly, metrics around video engagement across screens have lagged the most," said Josh Cogswell, Vice's president of digital, in an e-mail. "It's time now to set a new standard together, and metrics to help advertisers realize value around branded video, and prove brand lift and campaign effectiveness, will lead."

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