No One Left to Fight With in the Sandbox?

Unless you’ve tuned out of mass communication altogether, I’m sure by now you’ve heard that Nielsen//NetRatings announced its acquisition of Jupiter Media Metrix and ACNielsen’s eRatings last week. My friend Rose so perfectly dubbed it “the awakening of the sleeping giant.” I was quite surprised to hear about the deal.

Nowadays it seems like Social Darwinism is the only good news we have left. So we must ask ourselves, is this good news or bad news for our industry? It certainly has the potential to radically alter the world of online measurement.

To recap, the deal involves around $88 million in cash and stock, and it is expected to close toward the end of the first quarter. NetRatings’s chief executive Dave Toth has stepped aside, and Bill Pulver, former president of eRatings.com, has taken the driver’s seat. Rumors about layoffs are flying.

This area — online measurement — has long been the source of utter frustration because of its ever-shifting landscape, and our industry’s complete lack of standards simply adds to the problem.

First, let me say that we subscribe to all of these services. Second, keep in mind that these services cost a huge chunk of change. Although our agency has access to this data, it still only permits a Band-Aid approach to targeting and measuring audiences. And when this shaky data is combined with clients’ back-end log files, the dilemma comes to a full boil. Although the methodology differs, I’ve put together a list of how we use Media Metrix/AdRelevance and Nielsen//NetRatings today:

  • Overall audience measurement. Both include measurement of properties, domains, sites, and custom properties.
  • Audience demographics. Basic demographics, including age, gender, race, and income, are offered within each tool. Media Metrix/AdRelevance allows for a deeper understanding of the target when it comes to lifestyle information.
  • Web access location. Both show home use. Media Metrix/AdRelevance requires only home or work versus the two combined. Nielsen allows all of the above.
  • Per-person measurement. Both tracks show visits, pages, and time per person.
  • Multiple-country measurement. This comes standard with a Nielsen subscription. Media Metrix/AdRelevance requires a subscription to its International Measurement data.
  • Top categories. All tools provide this information.
  • Top Web sites. With MediaMetrix, a user can pull top sites ranked by unique visitor and all other key measures. AdRelevance allows a user to see a breakdown of demographics per ad or for the entire marketing campaign. Nielsen is a bit different. Its feature shows the top banners on the top sites based on impressions and unique visitors. In addition, it allows a user to see a breakout of demographics for banner ads. All tools provide a creative snapshot.
  • Top sites within a category. All tools provide this information.
  • Top advertisers. With AdRelevance, a user can learn the top 100 advertisers each week. This data is based on money spent (rate card). A user can see a creative shot and a demographic breakout of the audience. Nielsen shows the same data, but it’s based on unique visitors rather than rate cards.
  • Web site source/loss. MediaMetrix allows a user to see where new users at a certain site came from and to what sites it lost users. Nielsen goes one step further by offering a referring URL.
  • Clickstream measurement. MediaMetrix offers this information on a custom basis for a given site. Nielsen quantifies the top pages within a site.
  • Technical considerations. MediaMetrix runs on the operating system of a user whereas Nielsen is browser-based.
  • Specificity. MediaMetrix can track channels within properties, such as the women’s channel within AOL. Nielsen cannot get this granular.

As you can see, each tool offers a plethora of information. It’s hard to keep up with all this and sift through it in a timely manner. I’m sure no one uses each tool to the fullest of its capacity.

So what happens when there is no competition? On the one hand, results will no longer be disparate. On the other hand, this may give one company too much power. Will age-old media and new media combine? Seems like we’ll have to sit tight and wish for best-of-breed measurement tools. Maybe, just maybe, we will have credible numbers. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Seana Mulcahy is Vice President, Director of Interactive Media at Mullen. She was most recently Vice President of Media Services at Carat Interactive. A marketing Communications veteran of 11 years, Seana built online media services divisions for AGENCY.COM, Arnold Communications, and Digital Equipment Corporation. .

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