Google’s Screenwise Research Business

Should comScore and Nielsen be worried? Google is probably a big customer of comScore and probably also of Nielsen, both research firms that have panels of individuals that give them the right to monitor their online behavior and often offline behavior as well. Google’s recent launch of Screenwise may signal a move by Google to not only build out its own research panel supplementing or replace other data sources but also to potentially go into the research business. Perhaps comScore and Nielsen should be worried.

Screenwise is a research panel “similar to those used by many market research companies,” and the launch of Screenwise will probably start small (some people interpret Google’s mention of 8,000 in its Screenwise page in addition to mentioning a “few thousand people” as perhaps the 8,000 as being the target panel size). According to Google’s announcement, the panel will be managed by “Our panel management partner, Knowledge Networks.”

Interestingly, the Screenwise panel can serve at least three research purposes for Google simultaneously. Upon review of the Knowledge Networks site, perhaps even more research can be accomplished. However, given Google’s most likely immediate objectives, I can imagine that:

First, it can provide a full stream of all browser-based behavior (assuming the user or household only uses Chrome) for the registered individual or household. Interestingly, Google requests registrations from only those over 13 for obvious reasons, but family-shared computers are rarely locked down against the use of those under 13, so perhaps the instructions to panel members will be to log out of Chrome after each use or click a disable button on the extension.

Secondly, if Google wants to make specific changes to the user interface or other changes to functionality to see what the reaction is of a segment of the panel, it can probably do so through the Screenwise Chrome Browser Extension because Chrome extensions have a lot of flexibility with regard to enhanced Chrome functionality.

Finally, Google can probably field survey research relating to its own products to further validate the information it is seeing based on behavior or to ask hypothetical questions of the panelists.

There’s nothing to stop Google from making the research available outside of Google’s internal use, putting Google squarely into the billion dollar research business. Google’s user footprint is larger than any other player and therefore its research could be more predictive and valuable particularly for mid-sized sites. The challenge with panels, even million member panels, is that once one looks at information for less popular sites, the data sample sizes aren’t large enough to get a good reading with a high level of confidence.

Of course, as Screenwise grows, the data Google gets from its panel may eventually replace Google’s need for comScore or other research firms, plus Google will have the raw data available to slice and dice any way it chooses for itself or others. If Google positions Screenwise membership properly, it may be in a position to build a huge panel very inexpensively.

The market research industry is many billions of dollars and Google may be able to get a killer panel together where panelists consider it an honor to be on the panel or at the very least, fun. Apparently many Nielsen families participating in the TV ratings side of things felt honored to be selected.

Interestingly, Bing has a program that one could think of as a research panel, Bing Rewards. I see Bing Rewards as more of a loyalty program (looking to influence behavior) than a research program to measure behavior. However, data is a definite byproduct of the Bing Rewards program and Microsoft would be crazy not to use that data.

Perhaps the price points for the Google Screenwise and Bing Rewards programs will change over time, but in the meantime, neither program will make a panelist wealthy.


On another note, SEMPO is in the midst of electing its new board of directors. Check out this list of online marketing superstars. The quality of nominees is a testament to the importance of SEMPO to the industry. I have served on the SEMPO board since the founding of the non-profit trade association for the search marketing industry (and search marketers globally). This time I’ve chosen not to run in order to allow more of these nominees to join SEMPO at the leadership level. It was a difficult decision to not run again, but SEMPO has been around for 9 years and there comes a time… Plus, many of the existing board are running for re-election and I’m sure there will be sufficient continuity to provide historical perspective. The nominees are top-notch and include representatives from many countries as well as from publisher, advertiser/marketer, and agency sections of the ecosystem.

If you aren’t a SEMPO member, now is the time to check SEMPO out. Individual membership has become a no-brainer as SEMPO added lots of member discounts for paid and organic search marketers.