ComScore and Quantcast Spar Over Measurement Methods

The gloves are off in the online measurement ring. Established site traffic measurement firm comScore is sparring with Quantcast, the lesser-known firm that directly measures publisher site traffic and tracks audience characteristics. Quantcast has argued that comScore, in defense of its decision to charge publishers for its own direct measurement service, has taken some low blows at the younger rising startup.

“They seem to be trying to deflect attention from themselves,” said Quantcast CEO Konrad Feldman of comScore.

Things heated up between the firms this weekend. ComScore Chief Marketing Officer Linda Abraham posted an extensive explanation of why the company will now charge non-client publishers $10,000 per year for direct site measurement, implying that companies that don’t charge for such a service (read: Quantcast) provide lower quality data.

Companies must pay comScore an initial $5,000 for setup of the direct measurement system, which publishes their sites’ detailed traffic data on the comScore Direct interface for a period of six months, according to a spokesman. Once a publisher customer is on board, those sites will be tracked according to comScore’s new hybrid method — which combines the new approach with data gleaned through comScore’s panel system. However, if publishers do not continue paying $5,000 every six months, they cannot access their data in the interface.

Abraham also suggested that “free” services “were, in fact, off selling [publishers’] audience cookies on the online ad exchanges without their knowledge.” Added Abraham, “In life and business, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so Web site operators need to carefully consider the true cost of being beaconed by companies who are in the business of selling their cookies or using them for targeted advertising by leveraging information they got from those sites.”

“It’s a really cheap shot,” said Feldman. “We do not sell publishers’ data,” he continued. The firm installs beacons on Web sites and other platforms to track site audiences for free, and last year began providing audience segmentation and media buying services to publishers and agencies, in addition to media buying services. The company has long argued that its direct-measurement approach is superior to the panel-based measurement offered by the likes of comScore and Nielsen.

In response to years of outcries from publishers who argued that their server logs showed more traffic than comScore reported, the company introduced the hybrid model last year.

ComScore contends that its hybrid approach alleviates duplicates of unique visitors in traffic reports, and believes it can track “unduplicated reach” only “by using a panel to track the same user across sites, using a unique and persistent identifier.”

Internet industry vet and Mahalo.com CEO Jason Calacanis, helped bring the measurement methodology controversy — bubbling for years — to the surface on Saturday, when he called comScore “the technology industry’s biggest bully,” and referred to the firm’s $5,000/six months payment structure as an “extortion ring.”

Abraham’s post appeared to be a direct response to Calacanis. In it, she stated that the payment requirement “is a very reasonable price,” noting it was necessary to pay for “substantial incremental costs associated with auditing, processing, editing and storing terabytes of server data and then integrating it with our panel data using our proprietary statistical methodologies.”

Though Quantcast was never named specifically in Abraham’s post, the company read much of it as a direct attack on its business and methodologies — particularly the implication that Quantcast includes duplicate traffic data because it does not use a panel. In response, Quantcast challenged comScore to publish traffic reports showing double tagged content it has detected in the coming week. “Then allow any publisher, who chooses, to make this data publicly available so everyone can take a look,” stated Quantcast’s Sunday afternoon blog post.

Konrad said comScore has not responded to the challenge, and comScore did not respond to ClickZ’s inquiry about it.

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