Online Measurement Debate Presages TV's, Experts Suggest A Hybrid Solution

A critical debate about how to best measure the audiences of online media outlets - the ad industry's traditional panel-based methods, or newer census-based approaches - will ultimately determine the future of television ratings, and the TV advertising marketplace. That's what some of the online industry's leading researchers suggested to a packed audience during a day-long forum on audience measurement hosted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau in New York.

"The challenges that face the Internet are the same challenges that will face television over the next few years, so the lessons learned here are very important," Konrad Feldman, a co-founder and CEO of Quantcast, a new and promising player in the online measurement field predicted.

Feldman, like several other presenters at the forum, suggested the advertising world is stuck between the two measurement models, and that some form of compromise integrating the two forms of measurement into a new hybrid methodology might ultimately be the way all electronic media with a return path data stream are measured, bought, sold and posted on.



"The future of advertising is about greater addressability," he said, alluding to the torrent of addressable data streams that are beginning to become available from digital TV systems, as well as the Internet.

A top Nielsen Co. executive suggested as much, revealing a new online measurement service Nielsen has begun testing with some of its biggest clients that combines elements of panel and census based measurement.

The new service, dubbed "Video Census," not surprisingly initially focuses on video content being streamed and downloaded over online services, but if the marketplace embraces it, Manish Bhatia, president of global services and U.S. sales for Nielsen Online, said it ultimately would be rolled out to measure other forms of online content.

The system works by combining traditional panel based measurement to glean information that cannot be derived directly from the Internet, including profiles of individual users and data for publishers and video producers who do not actively "tag" their content.

"For sites that don't tag, we will still attempt to report data, but we will get it from the panel," Bhatia said, adding that if the system catches on he believes it would be in the best interest of content distributes to actively tag their programming to ensure it gets the best measurement.

"Our point of view is that both [panels and census] provide you with useful information and we came up with a solution that combines them," he said, noting that the service is currently being tested by clients including Time Warner, MSNBC, Viacom, ESPN, CNET, Veoh and

While he did not allude to what other Nielsen units might be doing vis a vis the measurement of conventional television programming, Nielsen has made it clear that the integration of census-level data from digital set-tops is becoming an integral part of its future measurement plans for television. Nielsen has been working hard to strike deals with cable and satellite operators to gain access to such data, which will become even more plentiful in February 2009, when the U.S. government mandates that all of the nation's broadcasters begin transmitting via digital spectrum.

Other companies have begun developing census based television data streams, and some like TNS and Google's TV Ads program, have begun making the data commercially available to advertisers.

The need for integrating census data with conventional panel data was apparent in a recent deal Google struck with Nielsen to get access to Nielsen's demographic profile data. Google said it needed the data to help sell its TV Ads - interactive, addressable TV ads that are distributed on digital cable systems and satellite operators including EchoStar's Dish Network - to advertiser and agencies who still plan and buy based on demographic profiles. In fact, some observers believe Google was having a difficult time convincing big TV buying shops who utilize TV reach optimization systems to even consider buying Google TV Ads, because the optimization systems rely on demographics for their inputting data.

Like Nielsen, companies like Quantcast are integrating data from both panels and census, or what Quantcast's Feldman calls "direct measurement," to provide hybrid data sets that deliver empirical information on media usage, and correlate them to who the individual users might be.

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