ARF probes issues of researching interactive media

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"Hits" are out, "cacheing" may continue to thwart the purity of some research and tracking services' numbers, and everyone is eager to move forward with development of research for new media using the best possible practices. These and other recurring themes dominated discussion by an executive-level panel of research professionals Wednesday at Advertising Research Foundation's Interactive Media Research Summit in New York.

A panel of executives from companies including Internet Profiles Corp., Audit Bureau of Circulations, The Delahaye Group, Next Century Media, Nielsen Interactive Services, NPD Group, WebTrack and others discussed their takes on the issues relating to interactive tracking and research. Bill Harvey, president-CEO of Next Century Media, said he thought development of a universally accepted one-click "leave your card" registration system would do much to facilitate ease-of-registration and allow trackers and researchers to get better demographic data.

ABC, meanwhile, told the audience of 220 agency, advertiser, media and research executives that it would add Ziff-Davis Interactive and Discovery Channel Online to its beta test of site auditing. The addition of Discovery is a switch for ABC, which has made its mark in the traditional media world by auditing print media. Time Inc.'s Pathfinder service also will beta test ABC's system, which uses software from Market Arts WebTrack, New York.

The day also contained several sparring matches among makers of competing and sometimes conflicting Web tracking software. Webtrack President Richard Tahta sharply criticized I/Pro for offering both site measuring services as well as auditing.

"If you're going to try and audit a count by reviewing that same count, you're always going to end up with the same answer," Mr. Tahta said. I/Pro's president, Ariel Poler, questioned the need for separate counting and tracking services: "Is there a need for two third parties in every case? I am not so sure."

Webtrack's partner, ABC, tried to remain unbiased. "We hope to be able to work with Ariel and I/Pro," said John Payne, senior VP-member services.

Site owners also sparred with audience members over methodologies for counting ad exposures. Representatives of Time Inc.'s Pathfinder, Hotwired and ZD Net all agreed that sites ought to charge advertisers based on "page views," or exposures to a particular ad. But many audience members disagreed, saying they measure the effectiveness of a site by measuring how many users actually clicked on their ad.

The day ended with no formal policy statements or decisions. But an informal poll of audience members showed that coming up with definitions of the terms used in Web measurement is a top priority.

O.J. interview off
NBC Wednesday afternoon abruptly canceled its three-hour O.J. Simpson news special. Originally, the network offered to sell 30-second spots for as much as $650,000 in the breaks adjacent to the one-hour commercial-free interview running in the middle of the special. NBC has instead decided to hold off, contending there were too many questions that could not be answered. Too many stipulations and conditions by O.J. Simpson were cited; also noted were the requirement that Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran be in the interview room and the lanned or pending civil lawsuits in the case. It was unclear at presstime what the effect would be on Wednesday night's TV schedule.

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