IAB Challenges ComScore and Nielsen/NetRatings on Metrics

Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO Randall Rothenberg this morning challenged his counterparts at online measurement firms ComScore and Nielsen/NetRatings to throw back the curtains on their opaque methodologies. The growth of the online ad industry could be stunted if marketers become more frustrated with discrepancies in site audience and ad impression reports, the IAB said.

“The platform is still burning. You can help us put out that fire,” wrote Rothenberg in a lengthy letter sent to ComScore CEO Magid Abraham and Nielsen/NetRatings CEO William Pulver. The IAB chief, a former CMO at global strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, expressed his dismay at discovering, upon starting his IAB role this year, that digital media measurement is as fraught with problems as traditional media measurement.

“I was rather startled to discover that one issue the Internet was built to resolve remains a burning platform, 70 years after marketers and media companies first lit the match. That issue is audience measurement,” he wrote. The letter was copied to the heads of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, and the Media Ratings Council.

“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,” wrote Rothenberg. In the open letter, he laments the “flawed media-research methodologies” of traditional media and “phantom metrics, like ‘pass-along readers,’ that add shadowy bulk to audiences.”

The IAB aims to have the two measurement firms participate in a summit with its board, the Media Ratings Council (MRC) and other industry representatives to establish a “near-term timetable” for independent audits and accreditations of ComScore’s and Nielsen’s systems. The IAB has commissioned the MRC to develop online measurement guidelines for ad impressions, clicks and rich media; the MRC is an industry-funded auditing service created in the 1960s by the U.S. Congress to create broadcast ratings standards.

In the communiqué, Rothenberg notes, “Although I understand you have agreed to be audited, I’m not aware that any timetables have been set.” The measurement companies each have “resisted numerous requests for audits by the IAB and the Media Ratings Council since 1999,” according to an IAB press release that came with the letter. IAB SVP Sheryl Draizen told ClickZ News, “There are just no commitments to a real timetable….I don’t understand it.”

As more and more ad dollars flow towards the Web and other digital platforms, marketers and publishers have become perturbed by inconsistencies among reports from third-party measurement firms like Comscore and Nielsen/Netratings, their own internal systems, and other management platforms. Some say this is especially disconcerting since the promise of advertising online has always been linked to the ability to track and measure campaigns and site audiences with near certainty.

A rise in the use of Ajax programming has publishers scrambling to find a metric to replace one that could be made obsolete, the pageview. Ajax is a programming technique that enables information on Web pages to be updated dynamically without the need to refresh the page, resulting in fewer pageviews when publishers employ the technology.

The IAB plans to form an audience measurement group to “attack the issues that Ajax has caused…and potentially find an alternative to pageviews,” Draizen said. The bulk of the IAB’s members are Web site publishers.

“Your own growth, as well as that of our member media companies, our agency partners, and the marketers we serve, will depend on providing fact-based audience measurement,” Rothenberg wrote in the letter.

Neither ComScore nor Nielsen/Netratings responded to requests for comment for this story in time for publication.

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