Real Media Founder Debuts Audience Measurement Firm

Former Real Media chairman and chief executive Dave Morgan is back in the saddle again with a new firm and a new idea that aims to aid Web publishers in better monetizing site traffic.

Morgan’s new Alley-based venture True Audience publishes “audience management” software that tracks publisher’s regular visitors and site members — culling data from content and ad servers, email, site registrations, sweepstakes, and so on.

The data is compiled into member profiles, as well as an overall site profile, both of which publishers can use in their pitch to advertisers.

Morgan’s idea is that by tracking users across all of a site’s publishing and marketing channels, site operators can gain a better understanding of their audience. That understanding, he believes, could be easily leveraged into higher premiums for targeted advertising.

“To compete for a larger share of ad dollars, online media companies need to better demonstrate the premium value of online advertising in terms other than strict direct-response metrics,” said Morgan, who in 1995 founded ad rep firm and network Real Media, which he left earlier this year.

Additionally, True Audience’s profiled information can be grouped in ways familiar to traditional media buyers — such as designated market areas, gross ratings points, and recency/frequency/monetary value. Since the Internet’s debut as a publishing medium in the mid-90s, those categories largely have been neglected by online sellers of advertising, many of whom viewed such figures as arcane throwbacks to the era of traditional media.

It’s quite a different story today. With the current woes facing the online ad industry, players are seeking ways to appeal to those same traditional media buyers — spawning efforts like the Interactive Advertising Bureau-led push to sell online ads as branding tools and to shy away from the click-through as the metric of choice for measuring efficacy.

Morgan’s new venture takes a slightly different tact by focusing on making online ad inventory more valuable, through increasing the visibility of a site’s audience.

With detailed visitor profiles — including in some cases age, gender and zip code — he says that True Audience can help publishers identify which segments of their audience are of higher value to prospective advertisers.

“True Audience will provide the tools that enable web publishers to qualify, quantify and package their audiences in ways traditional advertisers know how to buy,” Morgan said.

And so far, the approach is finding early supporters, especially among traditional publishers that oversee new media ventures. Among them is Advance Internet, the online unit of Advance Publications (parent of Conde Nast and Parade Publications, among others), which is evaluating the product for use on its sites. The Weather Channel’s Weather.com also is looking into the product.

“Marketers want to reach people, not page views,” said Advance Internet president Peter Weinberger. “Leading media companies will talk to marketers in their own language and learn to better demonstrate the role of the online media in the overall marketing mix, including online brand effectiveness.”

At any rate, Morgan’s product, an in-testing version of which was unveiled formally on Friday, launches into an industry dominated by the likes of players like DoubleClick’s Diameter unit, Jupiter Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings, and WebSideStory — all of whom are vying to provide publishers with information on their audiences.

Of the pack, WebSiteStory has the most similar proposition to True Audience — its HitBox software tracks site traffic and e-commerce activity to better understand audiences, and to optimize a site’s marketing based on that knowledge.

Competition’s not limited to metrics firms, however. The big ad networks/rep firms — DoubleClick, Engage and even Real Media — have long offered client publishers the ability to sell profile-based ads to advertisers.

For its part, True Audience expects to debut its product officially later in the year. In the meantime, the company is being funded by Morgan and chairman and chief financial officer Bradford Burnham, a former general partner at AT&T Ventures.

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