IAB challenges comScore, Nielsen//NetRatings

It didn’t take Randall Rothenberg much time to stir the pot. The new president/CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau has challenged the nation’s two leading Internet audience measurement services to submit to a third-party audit of their measurement methods.

Mr. Rothenberg on April 19 sent an open letter to comScore Inc. president/CEO Magid M. Abraham and Nielsen//NetRatings president/CEO William Pulver. As a first step, he has invited them to a summit meeting with the IAB’s board of directors to discuss interactive audience measurement.

The IAB’s overall objective is to gain transparency in audience counts and to revise panel methodologies. This is completely understandable. There are the discrepancies between the audience measurements of comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings and those of the server logs of the IAB’s more than 300 members. Add to that the differences between comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings’ measurement data. It’s not surprising that advertisers and media buyers don’t know which data to rely on.

Mr. Rothenberg spent seven years at management consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton before assuming leadership of the IAB, the nation’s leading lobby for interactive marketers and service providers.

Let his open letter take it from here:

“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 Nielsen//NetRatings to accept its members’ precise counts. But it does urge these two Internet researchers to work with the Media Rating Council, an independent body created by Congress in the ’60s. The IAB, in conjunction with the Media Rating Council, has developed guidelines for counting ad impressions. It would benefit advertisers, Web publishers and service providers if the two leading Internet measurement firms joined in the effort to develop reliable, audited metrics for tracking Internet usage.

There is no time to lose. Major advertisers such as Ford Motor Co., ING, Pepsi, Visa, Colgate-Palmolive, BMW, Kimberly-Clark and Hewlett-Packard will require the Web sites on which they advertise to offer audited numbers this year and certified data in 2008.

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