Dust-Up Flares Over New ComScore System
The dominant Web measurement firm is adding server data into its traditional panel-generated research in response to perennial complaints from Web publishers that it severely undercounts site traffic. That didn't stop Mahalo CEO and veteran Internet provocateur Jason Calacanis from attacking comScore on his site for years of miscounting Web traffic, especially for small sites.
He called for an industry-wide boycott on comScore services, including its new MediaMetrix 360 offering, which he described as a "'$10,000 (a year) to get your stats correct' extortion ring." Calacanis also criticized Union Square Ventures Managing Partner Fred Wilson for his investment in comScore.
Without referring specifically to Calacanis' tirade, comScore responded with a lengthy blog post Saturday discussing the hybrid measurement system it has been rolling out over the last seven months. The company says response to the initiative has been "overwhelmingly positive," with three-quarters of the top 50 Web publishers either already adopting the new methodology or in the process of doing so.
An All Things D post Friday pointed out that comScore's hybrid approach doesn't automatically guarantee higher traffic numbers. On the one hand, Huffington Post has more than doubled its audience to 20 million monthly visitors as a result of the switch. That's because niche sites like HuffPo, with heavy at-work traffic, were more difficult to accurately track under comScore's old panel system.
At the same time, the new method minimizes audience inflation caused by factors such as cookie deletion and bot traffic in server-side analytics. ComScore noted that AOL has 259 million cookies, giving it a reach of more than 125% compared to an actual reach of 54%. It also said sites including Netflix.com, Monster.com, and Mashable.com have seen little change in audience numbers under the new system.
Linda Abraham, comScore's chief marketing officer, also defended the cost of MediaMetrix 360. While the program is free for existing publisher clients, others are required to pay a $5,000 set-up fee (covering implementation expenses and reporting for six months) and then $5,000 for each six-month period thereafter.
"If at the end of that period, the client does not want to continue subscribing (no one has yet done so), we will still continue to implement the 360 methodology free of charge as long as the Web site continues to maintain our beacons/tags," wrote Abraham.
In an apparent reference to upstart analytics rival Quantcast, she also addressed criticism that comScore should offer the new beacon-based tracking service for free. "This argument neglects to account for how those other services monetize their approach -- which is by selling publishers' audiences (using their own cookies) to advertisers (and occasionally to their competitors), sometimes with the owner of the cookies not even being aware that this 'Trojan Horse' strategy is happening," according to comScore.
Quantcast struck back Sunday on its own blog, stating: "Because we provide a free service, doesn't mean we don't make measurement seriously." It pointed out that when it launched its own direct measurement service three years ago, comScore "labeled our service as harmful and our approach as rogue." Now, it's following suit.
Quantcast, which earlier this month announced raising $27.5 million in a third-round financing led by Cisco Systems, said it makes money by helping media companies "create more compelling audience packages" to sell to advertisers.
The company further issued comScore the challenge of publishing a traffic report showing foibles like double-counted tags and bot traffic for media properties it tracks. "Then allow any publisher, who chooses, to make this data publicly available so everyone can take a look. We're up for it, are you?" stated the post.
As of Sunday, comScore hadn't publicly responded to Quantcast's dare. But the controversy isn't likely to fade as comScore continues rolling out its new Web tracking method.