Ad Industry Groups Support Call for ComScore and Nielsen//NetRatings Audits

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) push for comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings to open their measurement systems to independent audits is being endorsed by three advertising organizations.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) issued a statement saying they support the IAB’s effort.

That effort was spelled out April 20 in an “open letter” to comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings by IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg. In it, Rothenberg, on behalf of the IAB’s board of directors, requested a meeting with comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings, which are competitors, to discuss bringing transparency to their interactive audience measurement processes.

Shortly after Rothenberg issued his letter, comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings said they would meet with several industry groups later this month. The closed meeting is scheduled for May 16.

In joining IAB’s call for verification, AAAA Digital Marketing Committee Chairman Nick Pahade said third-party audits of the comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings practices are necessary to “ensure that the methodology and business processes of interactive audience measurement are relevant with today and tomorrow in mind.”

The IAB fears the growth of the online advertising industry is in jeopardy if comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings refuse to open their doors to auditors. Discrepancies in site audience and ad impression reports could fuel increasing frustration among marketers, warned the IAB.

In addition to the discrepancies that have been discovered between the measurements of comScore and NNR and IAB member server logs, there are divergences in the measurement results of the two companies, said the IAB letter.

In a statement, ARF President and CEO Bob Barocci said his organization believes there should be full transparency in “all major Internet audience measurement providers, including not just comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings.” He said this should include Quantcast, Hitwise and other third-party ad servers.

Rothenberg’s letter stressed that accountability and “integrity in audience measurement is a fundamental necessity” for the industry. However, he said comScore and NNR “have resisted numerous requests for audits by the IAB and the Media Rating Council, some dating back to 1999,” lamented Rothenberg.

Of the two companies, Nielsen//NetRatings appears to be the one more amenable to the idea of transparency. It committed to going through a full Media Rating Council accreditation process, but comScore agreed only to an audit, not a subsequent accreditation.

In the open letter, Rothenberg called only for MRC approved audits, but not accreditation. The MRC would act as a liaison between the company being audited and a private CPA firm that would do the actual digging. CPA audits typically take around six months and it usually takes several more months before a final MRC assessment is finished.

“Without these audits, the industry has no way of knowing whether these deviations in measurement result from inconsistent counting or from outdated measurement methodologies, such as the panels developed in the 1930s and still relied on today,” wrote Rothenberg.

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