Op/Ed: ComScore gets digital

There's something cooking over at comScore, and Media Contacts' Chris Williams has something to say about it.

Media measurement in Canada for the most part has been conducted by not-for-profit tripartite bodies that focus on the benefits of a particular medium – BBM for broadcast, PMB for magazines and NadBank for newspapers. So why not online media in Canada? Surely the IAB Canada fits the model of being the tripartite not-for-profit that is focused on its medium, so why are these duties fulfilled by comScore Media Metrix, and where is it all going?

First of all, I would say that the above model is broken and should not be replicated by any new medium, so chalk one up for the IAB for not falling into that trap. Having research that is generated by one medium, and funded by publishers of that medium, demands scrutiny to make sure that the questions asked and the numbers generated are as neutral as possible.

Agencies typically use PMB to give views of cross-media usage by consumers. Various bodies such as the IAB have worked with PMB to provide scrutiny over the questions researched so that PMB does a reasonable job of reflecting what is going on with consumers’ usage of online. In other words, the magazine association is generating some important numbers for the online category. At some point, magazine publishers might start asking themselves why they are involved with this.

In some countries, online publishers have gone ahead with their own methodology of research. I attended a conference in Berlin some years ago where European publishers and agencies were discussing the issues of online measurement, and the hurdles – cookie deletion, how to report out-of-country usage, different web analytic vendors – seemed insurmountable. Plus they had barely scratched the issue of whether the agencies would even accept the data as meaningful. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for comScore to solve their problems, and yet there were still questions and hesitations all around. The discrepancy between what publishers see in their Omniture reports versus what comScore shows is a constant thorn that gnaws at publishers’ sales teams. Quantcast aims to bridge the gap through the use of both data, and it is showing promise, although as a startup its resources are strapped and it is focused on the US market.

The hiring of Pat Pellegrini as comScore’s VP Research for International Operations in Toronto suggests that the Canadian market has been tapped to develop a solution to address this problem. The rumour is that a hybrid of publisher server side data is being tested to work together with the panel data. Publishers will pass data to comScore in real time, enabling better weighting of the panelist’s actions and representation of the entire digital universe.

This is a huge development, as it will increase the value of the data and possibly lead to a rollout of the same in other countries. Also, the panel will be enlarged through a recruitment drive, and the French Canada panel will receive special treatment so that it is properly weighted.

Publishers would be smart to jump in this direction. Some have complained about the lack of competition in the market, but they have to realize that extreme competitive pressure for research exists already, just not in the expected form. Google, through its ownership of DoubleClick, Google Analytics, Google Chrome and Google AdPlanner, is the player to watch, not Neilsen. Even if people don’t support the grand unification-of-data conspiracy theory, then just the basic ad serving data the agencies hold, and behavioural targeting options through networks, should be enough for publishers to rethink what competition means.

Media measurement changed once media went digital. Increasingly, media data are handled globally: systems are standardized and shared to increase value, and the scope to which it is applied is going beyond the media silo in which it was created. Success will be determined by the ability of stakeholders to collaborate and develop against a set of ideals. Many of the current subscribers to comScore data are newspaper, magazine, radio and television sites. How long will it be before they begin pushing for ways for PMB, NadBank and BBM to collaborate with comScore?

Chris Williams is MD of Toronto-based Media Contacts