What's in a Session?

  • by October 25, 2001
By now, most of you should be familiar with the New York Times Digital’s announcement to begin selling inventory on a more “traditional” reach-based scale. They’re calling it “Surround Sessions.” The idea is to guarantee that a specific number of readers will see a fair amount of advertising from the same advertisers.

Let’s break it down into its core components:
1. Reach – So important for so many reasons: using the “Apples to Apples” methodology, instead of comparing user impressions, we’re now able to compare the impression made on humans through a session
2. Targeting – NYT Digital has a pretty good idea of the characteristics and makeup of their target audience, even without the registration data which they do have at their disposal. Actual delivery against defined clusters gets us closer to the idealistic TRP (Target Rating Point).
3. Competitive Clutter – this takes the idea of a captive audience to a new level…landmark improvement on some of the existing scenarios; also helps us compare against with full page print and television ads.
4. Proof of View – the million dollar question: put it this way, with 3 placements across 5 pages, the probability of being seen is sure to be higher
5. Frequency – additional frequency (see pricing) helps compensate for limited available reach
6. Sequential Messaging – This introduces many combinations and permutations for creative messaging and interactive strategy, for example pages 1-4 for branding and page 5 for generating some kind of response (once the article is completed, an external link is less of a distraction or impulse action)
7. Pricing – let’s not leave out the innovative proof of exposure condition: a session equals 5 pages viewed – anything less does not count; anything more is added value. Given the average “session” view of 18.5 pages (according to Media Metrix), there should be substantial value add built into the package.



The introduction of reach-based sessions opens up an existing debate about whether new media professionals should be using familiar media terms in order to gain support from traditional media, as well as woo new business from existing clients.

My personal viewpoint is that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Reach x frequency is the beginning of the equation. We now have the opportunity to take this even further through being able to demonstrate actual versus estimated delivery. In addition, we might want to think about factoring in some new qualifiers, such as richness of experience or the ability to interact, input and transact.

The mythical IRP (Internet Rating Point) may very well exist and might come to be a landmark improvement on both the GRP (Gross Rating Point) and even TRP. In fact, don’t be surprised to see these types of measurements spread to traditional media (why shouldn’t advertisers be able to measure how many seconds were viewed in their 30 second spot before the viewer hit the remote?) Also look out in the not-too near future for the ability to measure complimentary or unduplicated reach across multiple media properties, for example: NY Times and NYT Digital.

I’m relieved this new approach is coming from a recognized property and brand like the New York Times. They’ve got the ball rolling and I’m pretty sure the agencies will help out by partnering with the Times to evolve this offering. I also hope that technical glitches don’t get the better of an idea, which at this stage sounds good in theory, but has yet to be rolled out.

Furthermore, for these Surround Sessions to be successful, we’re going to need to see the rest of the online publisher pack adopting similar programs. Unduplicated reach must prevail and publishers need to be able to work together in order to make it so. Not much point in a media plan, which is one part reach and 4 parts impression, in trying to determine how many unique people were exposed to the advertising.

Until this happens, advertisers and their agencies are going to have to turn to their third party ad servers in order to help them navigate through this new landscape through tracking unique visitors across multiple sites for example. But clearly, this is a short-term solution in that it does not address the way online media is – or will be – sold.

- Joseph Jaffe is Director of Interactive Media at TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York, where he works with clients including Kmart, ABSOLUT Vodka, New York City Public Schools, Embassy Suites and Sci-Fi. His primary focus is to highlight interactive's value and benefit in meeting his clients' integrated business and branding objectives.

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