Nielsen//NetRatings, IAB to discuss online audience audit

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Nielsen//NetRatings has responded to Friday's open letter from the Interactive Advertising Bureau with one of its own, agreeing to sit down with the trade lobby's representatives to discuss a third-party audit of its Internet audience measurement service through the Media Rating Council.

The letter, from NetRatings president/CEO William Pulver, stressed the company's previous cooperation with the IAB and MRC. It said NetRatings has completed the MRC's pre-audit and is currently working on a formal research plan along with the MRC's research committee.

"As a result, we were surprised by your comment that, 'We simply cannot let the Internet, the most accountable medium ever invented, fall into the same bad customs that have hindered older media and angered advertisers for decades,'" Mr. Pulver said in the letter.

"NetRatings anticipates attaining full MRC accreditation in the future, similar to MRC accreditations held by many established media measurement companies, including Nielsen Media Research, which submit to regular audits," the letter said.

NetRatings has used panel- and site-centric tools to report audience estimates since the company's launch 10 years ago. The company is integrating that panel and site data, as well as creating new tools for measuring streaming media and AJAX.

Also, NetRatings is expanding site classification to six levels and working with sibling Nielsen Media Research on the convergence of TV and the Internet.

The NetRatings reply to IAB is an acknowledgement that standardized measurement of Internet traffic continues to be a bugbear issue for major advertisers.

IAB president/CEO Randall Rothenberg, fresh from several years at management consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton, voiced his 332 members' frustration in a strong letter he penned to NetRatings and comScore, the two leading Internet audience measurement firms.

"Imagine my surprise when I came to the IAB and discovered that the main audience measurement companies are still relying on panels - a media-measurement technique invented for the radio industry exactly seven decades ago - to quantify the Internet," the letter said.

"It is incumbent on all of us in the marketing-media value chain to come as close as possible as we can to the ideal of true accountability," it said. "To continue to close the gap between sample and census requires dialogue, collaboration and auditing according to a set of independent, transparent standards."

Mr. Rothenberg questions the researchers' current ability to measure niche populations.

"To persist in using panels that undercount or ignore the diverse populations that are the future of consumer marketing is to deny marketers the insights they need to build their businesses," the letter said. "And it certainly appears to us as if they are being undercounted or disregarded, for our members' server logs continue to diverge starkly from your companies' sample-based assessments by 2x or 3x magnitudes in some cases - far beyond any legitimate margin of sampling error."

The IAB is not asking for comScore or NetRatings to accept its members' precise counts. But it does urge these two Internet researchers to work with the MRC, an independent body created by Congress in the '60s. The IAB, in conjunction with the MRC, has developed guidelines for counting ad impressions.

For its part, NetRatings is willing to open a dialogue on this issue.

"NetRatings shares the IAB's enthusiasm for building accountability across the digital media marketplace, and we look forward to meeting with you - and your fellow members - to discuss the opportunities and challenges relating to Internet audience measurement," Mr. Pulver's letter said to Mr. Rothenberg.

"Our interests are aligned and we are committed to working together to define and implement research methods and services that will support the ongoing growth of the medium," the letter said.

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