Quantcast Heats Up Online Video Metrics Space

Eyebrows were raised last week in the online video world as upstart metrics firm Quantcast signed deals with ABC, Hulu and BBE (formerly Broadband Enterprises) to provide them with comprehensive video audience measurement. Some publishers and agency executives predicted the coup would force incumbents Nielsen Online and comScore to speed up their own video measurement efforts.

At present, Nielsen and comScore can provide data on how many unique users visit a Hulu.com or YouTube.com in a given month, but that’s about it. Audience data on syndication plays like the CBS Audience Network or individual Web shows (such as CBS’ Novel Adventures) is scarcely available, despite the proliferation of both. When it comes to measurement, “We’re still in a bit of a sorry state, to be honest,” said Mike Hudack, CEO, Blip.tv.

Matt Wasserlauf, CEO of BBE, an online video network, said the nascent industry desperately needs to provide advertisers basic metrics like audience size that comes from a third party in order to compete with TV. “When you buy a TV spot, you get an overnight rating,” he said. “With Quantcast, now we have that.”

Some video publishers complain that Nielsen and comScore have been too slow—though both promise new metrics capabilities sometime in 2009. “I definitely feel Quantcast has been faster,” said Jean-Paul Colaco, senior vp of advertising at Hulu, which works with all three providers. But Quantcast doesn’t necessarily want to unseat Nielsen and comScore to become the industry’s data source for video.

“Providing better marketplace data is not our goal,” said Quantcast CMO Adam Gerber. “We think that sort of macro data will become less and less important in advertising transactions.” Instead, Quantcast is promising to help clients sell better using its video data, and most of those clients don’t make all of their Quantcast numbers public.

Charley Shoemaker, director of product management, Nielsen Online, said his company will soon publish detailed data on all the major TV broadcasters’ Web video offerings. And despite some criticism, Nielsen has figured out how to track video as it travels across the Web, he said. (Like Mediaweek, Nielsen Online is owned by The Nielsen Co.)

Plus, both Nielsen and comScore say their video measurement products will excel by blending panel data (which Quantcast eschews) and server data. “I really think hybridization is the solution,” said Tania Yuki, senior product manager at comScore, which is in the process of implementing its Video Metrix tool with partners like Hulu and Microsoft.

Some in the industry would like the Interactive Advertising Bureau to push harder for video measurement standards. But Joe Laszlo, the IAB’s director of research, said that while such work is in progress, most industry executives are “still OK with the census-level data that exists now.”

Chris Allen, vp, video innovation director at Starcom USA, would seem to concur. He acknowledged that online video metrics were currently lacking, but he remains patient.
“Nobody’s come up with a silver bullet to nail it,” he said. But, “at this point people are still pretty comfortable with what we have.”

Besides Quantcast, several other metrics companies have emerged promising more technologically sound, robust tracking of online video, including TubeMogul and Visible Measures. Some in the industry even predict that Nielsen or comScore will eventually move to acquire one of these firms, while others say it’s more likely that they’ll eventually assume a similar role in the video space as analytics companies like Omniture have in the general Web publishing world.

According to David Burch, marketing manager, TubeMogul, the year-and-a-half-old startup works directly with 30 sites, and can already provide channel- and show-level data on any video on the Web, even content that is widely distributed. But at the moment, the company is hesitant to release too much data for public consumption as it works to establish its position in the industry. “A lot of video sites are hesitant to let you in that deep,” he said. “They don’t’ want to embarrass partners, or their advertisers might not like it.”

Lately, besides providing measurement services for media companies, TubeMogul has been taking on more custom work for marketers looking to tap into viral video. “We’re still figuring out who we are,” he said.

Similarly, Brian Shin, founder and CEO, Visible Measures, says his company is already able to provide a highly detailed amount of industry-wide data on Web video. But Shin sees the company as providing services which are complementary to what firms like Nielsen and Quantcast offer, and is “not trying to be the end-all standard,” he said. Visible Measures works with clients like MTV to help improve video monetization—an area of increased interest, according to Shin. “People are definitely clamoring for the solutions we have.”