Widgets Are Trackable, but Ad Implications Unclear

Users might not know what they are, but they’re viewing widgets enough that site traffic measurement firm comScore has begun tracking the Flash-based units. Indeed, the firm found 21 percent of Web users worldwide viewed a widget in April.

Now that large sites like Facebook are allowing marketers to reach their audiences through these tools, and big media companies like CBS are embracing them as promotional vehicles, it’s clear that widgets could become a significant component of the broader online content distribution phenomenon. Although it’s too early to tell the implications for advertisers, the fact that Comscore is tracking them may inspire advertisers to give them another look.

“As a whole the measurement of widgets is really important for the industry as a whole… whether you’re measuring the value of a company or the value of an audience as a marketer,” said Eric Elia, VP programming and design at video platform provider Brightcove. “If we’re in conversations with an agency, measuring is really important for that,” he added.

The firm came in eighth place in the Comscore Widget Metrix roster, serving up its embedded video player to nearly 17 million unique viewers in April, or 2 percent of the international Internet population. According to comScore, Brightcove’s video players showed up on the list because of the type of files they are; only SWF files were tracked, while other file types, such as the FLV files YouTube uses were not. Brightcove recently introduced Takeout boxes, or widget-like units that are updated with the latest video posted to its site.
Though some may not think of video players as widgets, Elia noted, “You can look at those as syndicated experiences.”

Comscore tracked the number of unique viewers who saw widgets provided by companies in the list. The unique viewer metric is “analogous to unique visitors on a Web page,” said a comScore spokesperson.

Brightcove is an outlier among the rest of the top ten, mainly providers of photo and music sharing tools, such as first and second-place widget outfits Slide and RockYou, which allow users to create slideshows. According to Comscore, Slide’s widgets were viewed by around 117 million unique viewers, accounting for almost 14 percent of worldwide users. RockYou’s slideshow units were viewed by over 82 million uniques in April, or nearly 10 percent of all Web users.

The remaining top ten widget providers by unique viewers in April were PictureTrail (30.6 million uniques), Photobucket (28 million), BunnyHeroLabs (25 million), BlingyBlob (21.6 million), Poqbum (18.6 million), Layoutstar (15.3 million) and Musicplaylist.us (15 million). North America is leading the widget parade, with 81 million or 40 percent of unique viewers. Western Europe accounted for a little more than half that, or 24 percent of viewers.

While publishers and a handful of advertisers have experimented with disseminating their content or promotions via these proliferating tools, it remains to be seen whether advertisers will adopt them in any broad manner. They are showing interest though. Slide, for instance, is in contact with brand advertisers interested in ad opportunities.

“To the extent that many of them are not monetized today I think they represent a whole new form of media [that could be],” said Linda Boland Abraham, EVP at comScore.

Still, the fact that many of the widgets getting the most views exist on blogs and personal profile pages filled with questionable content could deter advertisers from running ads against the units.

“The content is more unpredictable, and where those widgets show up is more unpredictable,” said Brightcove’s Elia. So, he continued, using them as an ad vehicle “is a little bit of a stretch.”

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