Web counting field crowds up with new player

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The latest entrant in the crowded Web audience measurement marketplace is banking on sophisticated database technology to set it apart from the pack.

NetRatings, a Hitachi spinoff announced today, will be trying to wrestle business away from Media Metrix (formerly PC Meter), RelevantKnowledge and other measurement companies that use a panel-based approach to tracking Web behavior.

"We are the first to give you a complete view of what people do on the Web," said Tim Meadows, VP-marketing at NetRatings, Milpitas, Calif.

He said this is possible with the company's software, developed by engineers at Hitachi, that creates detailed profiles of its Internet panelists, tracks their activity on the Web, and slices and dices the data so Web advertisers can better target their ads.

It's now in the process of recruiting panelists using random digit-dialing telephone sampling. Once panelists are recruited, NetRatings asks them more than 45 lifestyle questions to create user profiles, then electronically gathers Web surfing data, which is compiled weekly for clients to view online.


"If a media planner wants to know what people who go to professional hockey games did on the Web, we can sort data in our database based on that variable," said Mr. Meadows.

NetRatings said it will be able to track not only site activity but banner activity as well, such as the top ads clicked on.

However, said Tim Reed, director of marketing and business development at Internet Profiles Corp., "I'd think it would be an amazing challenge for them to [track] banners, since [banners] are named inconsistently.

"That seems to be a claim everyone is having a lot of difficulty delivering on," he added. I/PRO counts Web traffic from client sites, using a census- rather than panel-based approach.

Startup RelevantKnowledge, Atlanta, which launched in June, also said it can track banner activity.

Even if NetRatings is able to deliver what it claims, it faces challenges. So far, it has recruited fewer than 1,000 panelists, although it expects to reach 5,000 by the first quarter of next year and eventually build to 25,000. It is now working with a handful of beta clients, which it declined to name.


Media Metrix, which has been counting Web traffic since January 1996, has a panel of 28,000 home users and 125 clients. RelevantKnowledge now has about 7,000 panelists and has signed up about a dozen clients including ZDNet, WhoWhere? and others.

Peter Storck, group director of online advertising at Jupiter Communications, said there's definitely room for more players in this space.

"There's room because there's no winner yet," said Mr. Storck. "No company has managed to get all Web publishers to use its service and agree to let the data be public."

Jeff Levy, CEO of Relevant Knowledge, said he expects even more companies to enter the race."This is the type of technology that will enable advertising on the Web to be a viable business,"he said.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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