BPA, I/PRO Form Alliance Against ABC

Executives at the Audit Bureau of Circulations dismissed a recent alliance between online auditing organizations BPA International and I/PRO, characterizing it as a defensive maneuver meant to shore up the firms in a market increasingly dominated by ABC’s interactive division.

“ABC Interactive is really just so far ahead of the curve in the auditing arena that this just appears to be an attempt by both the weaker parties to try to put together an alliance to compete for business,” said Mark Wacho-

wicz, senior vice president of marketing and sales at ABC, Schaumburg, IL.

At issue is the growing demand for reliable Web-site traffic data. Advertisers and investors are often reluctant to rely on the traffic numbers claimed by Web publishers, meaning sites sometimes seek third-party verification. Auditing firms, such as ABC, BPA and I/PRO provide reports detailing information including page views, times of peak activity, geographic locations of site visitors and the ISPs serving those visitors. Unlike Internet audience monitoring firms like Media Metrix Inc., New York, that use sampling, auditing firms gather activity data directly from the servers that support Web sites.

BPA International, New York, and Engage Technologies Inc. unit I/PRO, Redwood City, CA, this month expect to generate their first audits as part of a pact announced in October. Under the agreement, I/PRO will set up the firms’ joint customers, handle data from server files, and provide other technological services. BPA, which has almost 70 years of experience auditing offline business publications, will perform the human review of the I/PRO data and publish the results in a BPA Interactive report. I/PRO will continue independently selling its measurement and auditing services.

Officials from BPA and I/PRO said the pact could boost confidence in the broader Web industry by creating uniform interactive auditing. Previously, interpretive discrepancies existed between I/PRO and BPA on how to define a page impression.

“We believe it’s important to the industry to have a single standard,” said Tim Reed, vice president of marketing at I/PRO. “We believe that the strengths of our respective organizations, the technology and the auditing skills that we’ll bring will allow us to create that standard.”

ABC Interactive executives argue otherwise. “When it gets to the point where we’re gobbling up so much market share that it’s to the detriment of the other parties – and it’s happening every day on the Internet – these alliances are formed,” said ABC’s Wachowicz.

To be sure, ABC has an impressive client roster. In addition to auditing properties controlled by America Online Inc., the firm handles DoubleClick Inc., Flycast Communications, and the U.S. and international portals operated by Yahoo Inc. Overall, ABC Interactive handles 16 of the Media Metrix top-50 sites, and is “very close” to signing contracts with six more from the group, according to Evelyn Hepner, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. She added that six of the top-50 sites do not accept advertising.

“I/PRO is a big company in terms of funding and such, but in terms of … the independent third-party audit business, it’s really pretty insignificant,” said ABC’s Wachowicz. He said I/PRO can’t claim to be independent because it is a for-profit unit of visitor software tracking firm Engage.

For its part, I/PRO says its I/Audit product is the Web’s “leading third-party audit statement,” used by over 70 percent of the audited sites online. And I/PRO’s client list is nothing to sneeze at: It includes Netscape Communications Corp., Excite, Infoseek and Dell Computer Corp.

ABC’s Hepner conceded it is impossible to know all the companies in I/PRO’s customer base. The firm does not publish a complete client list.

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