Following a public call for audits of their methodologies, Comscore and Nielsen/NetRatings have agreed to meet with several industry groups later this month. In response to an open letter from Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO Randall Rothenberg lamenting a lack of transparency at the two audience measurement systems, members and staff of trade associations including the Online Publishers Association and the IAB will come together with the firms for a closed meeting May 16 to discuss future plans.
With reservations, IAB SVP and GM Sheryl Draizen said the IAB is "obviously very encouraged by these initial steps." However, while speaking at today's ClickZ Web Metrics conference in New York, she said the IAB will continue to put pressure on the companies to ensure they both complete full accreditation.
On April 20, the IAB threw down the audit gauntlet in a missive demanding the measurement firms shed light on their otherwise opaque methods for tracking site traffic, demographics and audience profiles. The letter claimed growth of the online ad industry could be stunted if marketers become more frustrated with discrepancies in site audience and ad impression reports.
Apparently, the IAB decided to make the audit challenge public earlier than originally intended since it was "starting to leak in the press," according to Draizen, who said the IAB did notify Comscore and NetRatings before making the letter public. She told the ClickZ conference audience, "in hindsight, maybe we would have [handled things differently]."
Still, she stressed the measurement firms had ample notice. "If [Comscore and NNR] were blindsided by us," Draizen told the conference crowd, "they hadn't been listening to us for the past four years....We've asked for this on an ongoing basis for quite some time."
The meeting most likely will be held at the IAB's offices; members and staff from the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertisers, the Online Publishers Association, and the IAB, along with representatives of Comscore and Nielsen/NetRatings, will be present, according to Draizen.
NetRatings has committed to going through a full MRC accreditation process, and has already completed the pre-audit process by the Media Ratings Council. "We're in the process of reviewing estimates from our auditors," said Marc Ryan, VP, market research services at NNR.
Comscore, however, has agreed to an audit only, not an accreditation, Draizen said. A Comscore spokesperson said the company's plans regarding this would be addressed in the near future.
An audit, believes Draizen, is quite different from accreditation. While an audit essentially would provide an account of the methodologies in place, accreditation would assure that said methods are implemented in a standardized manner.
"You're proving that you're using that process and you're using that technology each time you report a certain number," explained Draizen. An audit without accreditation, she continued, "is like saying you're agreeing to drive, but you're not agreeing to obey the rules of the road."
Comscore is in the process of undergoing an evaluation of its methodology by the Advertising Research Foundation; however, Draizen said an ARF audit "is basically a review of the methodology that they use....It doesn't include any kind of testing or evaluation or enforcement."
Though the IAB has suggested the MRC oversee the audits and accreditation processes, Draizen said accreditation from other entities will be acceptable.
It has been suggested that the IAB may have an ulterior motive in demanding audits of the two largest audience measurement firms. Some believe the organization may want to discredit Comscore and NNR, in turn enhancing credibility of publishers' server log data. Draizen denied this, stating the IAB is simply interested in ensuring that the most accurate data are used by marketers and agencies when determining media spends.
In fact, when the IAB begins developing new guidelines for measuring ad impressions and unique site visitors, it expects to request that site publishers have their internal systems audited. "There are no double standards," said Draizen.
"This is all about making sure that the marketers are confident that the numbers are correct," she continued.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
March 19, 2014