April 20, 2007 / 8:10 PM / 12 years ago

Internet user ratings draw fire from trade group

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, raised fresh concerns about the measurement of Internet users’ behavior and called on Friday for two leading market research companies to submit to audits.

The IAB’s complaints about the Internet audience ratings issued by comScore Inc. and Nielsen//NetRatings come as advertisers shift increasing amounts of money into online digital media.

That shift has made precise measurements of how and where users spend time on the Web more important, and comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings issue the most closely watched audience data. In particular, their data on Web media companies Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. is used by investors and analysts to gauge their progress throughout the quarter.

Audience measurement can be a topic of controversy across all types of media. In television, for example, Nielsen Media Research will soon introduce ratings that track how many people stay tuned to commercials, after critics said only measuring a show’s audience gave an inaccurate picture of viewing habits.

“We in the marketing-media ecosystem have spent too many years trying to clean up the residue of flawed media-research methodologies,” Randall Rothenberg, IAB’s chief executive, wrote in a letter to comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings that was released on Friday.

“We simply cannot let the Internet, the most accountable medium ever invented, fall into the same bad customs that have hindered older media and angered advertisers for decades,” he added.

Rothenberg urged comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings to allow the Media Rating Council, a third party, to audit the way they measure audience numbers.

ComScore said in response that it “welcomes the objective outlined” in the IAB letter. It added that it began working with the Media Rating Council several months ago and is “in the final stages of an evaluation of our methodology” by the Advertising Research Foundation.

“ComScore’s panel methodology reflects the investment of millions of dollars and years of research and development,” it said. “We are confident it will withstand the scrutiny of a third party evaluation.”

Nielsen//NetRatings was not immediately available for comment.

In a statement that accompanied Rothenberg’s letter, the IAB cited discrepancies in audience numbers between comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings. It also said its internal figures often showed results that differed from those issued by the two market research companies.

“The goal of the IAB and the entire Interactive industry is simple: to achieve transparency in audience counts and to revise out-of-date methodologies,” the group said in a statement.

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