Historically, the advent of third-party measurement has provided advertisers with the confidence and accountability to fully commit to spending in a medium, allowing media operators to monetize their inventory to the maximum extent possible. This has truly been a win/win institution.
The Internet has long been called the most measurable medium; for better or worse, the corollary to that is the Internet is the medium with the most measures. So we have website audience sizing — “the ratings” — but we also have campaign audience tracking, viewability, brand safety, fraud prevention, attribution, ad effectiveness: all different types of measurement that are, collectively, a fundamental part of the ecosystem, and that comprise the engine on which digital business gets done. And there is certainly no shortage of third-party measurement providers. Just consider everybody’s favorite measurement type, viewability. By my count, there are currently 14 third-party measurement providers with a viewability accreditation from the MRC.
Clearly, I don’t have to sell you, the Metrics Insider readership, on the importance of third-party measurement. But there are two dynamics for us, collectively, to consider.
First, there is the dynamic of first-party measurement — of publishers providing their own measurement to their advertiser clients. In addition to those 14 viewability providers I mentioned above, I counted another five accreditations that I would call first-party viewability accreditations. Digital technology enables companies that are not in the measurement business per se to create and accredit measurement systems, and many blue-chip publishers have done so. It is not my intent to argue against first-party measurement; but I will observe that there is much evidence that the marketplace generally prefers and demands independent third-party measurement for commerce to truly flow.
Second, and probably the knottier dynamic, is the fact that at this point most digital measurement systems depend on publisher participation via tagging. I was first confronted with the phenomenon of measurement requiring media operator participation back in the ‘90s when I was at Arbitron and we were developing and launching the PPM service. With PPM, broadcasters needed to encode in order to show up in the ratings. Many of us thought this was wholly unworkable; if one big broadcaster didn’t like their numbers, or was in a feud with the measurement company, they could pull the encoders and effectively undermine the service. But this fear proved to be unwarranted, and today measurement requiring publisher participation is the norm — especially in the digital space.
But some publishers push back on third-party tagging. And many of them have good reasons, including concerns about site response latency and “data leakage.” It's hard not to be sympathetic to these concerns. But I believe most publisher concerns about third-party tagging can be addressed by the technology as it stands today.
I also believe that open, ubiquitous third-party measurement is what the market wants —both buyers and sellers. If this is true, then that market should coalesce around the value of third-party measurement, and reaffirm the importance of the ubiquity and free flow of such measurement. Indeed, one major publisher, Yahoo, has just done this very thing. And advertisers — upon whose patronage we are all, ultimately, beholden — should support this value with their purse strings, in order to assure that the ecosystem continues to work best for them, and for the rest of us.