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was quantcasting, which means just reaching the people you
want to reach." Today, the company claims that 85,000 broadly
defined "publishers" have elected to be directly measured by
Quantcast, including the Disney-ABC Television Group, NBC,
CBS, MTV Networks, Fox, BusinessWeek, and Time's SI.com
Quantcast is not the only company with the bright idea of
replacing panel-based audience measurement. Last June, Google
announced a new service, Google Ad Planner, which uses the com-
pany's detailed knowledge of Web tra c to provide interested
parties with a more accurate understanding of Web audiences.
Wayne Lin, Ad Planner's product manager, demonstrated the ser-
vice to me when I visited the GooglePlex in Mountain View, CA.
Because Google owns DoubleClick, one of the two dominant sys-
tems for serving ads, Web audience data can be combined with the
ad-serving system so that media planners know which sites are
best suited for which ads. The combination should be powerfully
attractive for media planners and marketers, says Lin.
How do media planners regard the two new audience measure-
ment services? "We use Quantcast now at Mediasmith, but they
are not complete enough yet to be a total solution," says David
Smith, who briefly advised the startup during its formation. The
di culty, according to Smith, is that the site's audience informa-
tion won't be really useful---let alone a new currency---until more
publishers elect to be quantified. Jim Spanfeller agrees. "They're
to be commended for working hard on the problem," he says. "But
it's very much a chicken-and-egg thing."
As for Google's Ad Planner, Smith says, "the agencies will never
stand for it." Smith, like everyone I spoke to, argued that media
planners will resist Google's audience information because no
one wants one company to be so dominant in online advertising:
were Ad Planner to be widely adopted, Google would be selling
keywords through its search advertising network, AdWords; sell-
ing banner advertising through its display advertising network,
AdSense; serving those ads through DoubleClick; and advising
media planners on where to spend their advertising dollars.
Ad Planner also lacks a number of important features that an
advertising agency might expect from an audience measurement
service. According to Smith, it o ers neither very detailed demo-
graphics nor a full explanation of its methodologies. Patrick Viera,
TechnologyReview.com's own digital strategist and West Coast
advertising manager, said disdainfully when I asked his opinion:
"Yeah, I looked at it. It doesn't do anything you want. It's just a tool
for selling AdSense."
Still, says Smith, there's demand for something new. "Publish-
ers have to use third-party measurements, but third parties [such
as ComScore and Nielsen] may underestimate audiences, and the
truth is probably somewhere in between. That's why new compa-
nies like Quantcast have a chance."
But neither Quantcast nor Google nor improved products from
ComScore and Nielsen Online could, by themselves or in com-
bination, fix display advertising and thereby ensure the future
health of media.
Whatever audience measurement tools are adopted, they will
themselves have to be validated by an independent party. Quant-
cast, ComScore, and Nielsen Online (but not Google) are all in
the process of being audited by the Media Rating Council (MRC),
which was established by the U.S. Congress in the 1960s to audit
and accredit the ratings of broadcasters. Accreditation will smooth
disputes about the di erent audience measurement methodolo-
gies, according to George Ivie, the chief executive of the MRC:
"It will help bring the numbers closer together; and it will explain
and make transparent the di erences between the census and
In addition to the disagreements about the size of Web audi-
ences, though, online advertising su ers from deep structural
problems that must be addressed before media planners and their
advertising clients will spend really large sums. These are various
and dauntingly technical, but according to David Smith, they all
involve, in one way or another, the absence of commonly accepted,
automated means to create, sell, serve, and track the performance
of online ads.
Fixing all that will take years, as will the adoption of undisputed
audience measurement methods. "This industry is only 13 years
old," says Smith. "It grew rapidly with few standards for six years.
Then it collapsed, with very little research and development for
four years, and has just been getting back to the right kind of R&D
and standards in the past three."
Still, by any estimate, the general confusion about Web audi-
ences is the reason why the online medium has matured in so
ungainly a fashion. "It's an amazing topic," wrote Roger McNamee
in a conversation using the messaging service of the social network
Facebook. "You could see it coming a mile away. Unfortunately,
the remedy is not yet obvious."
JASON PONTIN IS THE EDITOR IN CHIEF AND PUBLISHER OF TECHNOLOGY REVIEW.
Quantcast claims that
85,000 broadly defined
"publishers" have elected to
be directly measured by it,
including the Disney-ABC
Television Group, NBC,
CBS, MTV Networks, Fox,
BusinessWeek, and SI.com.
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