Updated: Crisis in Metrics, Say Digital Media Execs | Adweek Updated: Crisis in Metrics, Say Digital Media Execs | Adweek
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Updated: Crisis in Metrics, Say Digital Media Execs

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The most measurable medium’s metrics are a major mess.

That’s according to a group of digital media executives who participated in a measurement-themed panel session on Wednesday (May 6) at the Interactive Media Conference (hosted by Editor & Publisher and Mediaweek) in New Orleans. Jason Kint, senior vp, general manager, CBSSports.com, was particularly frank when asked about the state of online measurement, saying that the industry “has gone backwards in the past five years. There is a real crisis in metrics right now.”

A major source of the crisis, said Kint, is the proliferation of newer research sources that, while aiming to improve metrics, have only made things more confusing. For example, he mentioned the increasingly common practice buyers and sellers blending together panel-based figures from companies like Nielsen and comScore with data from analytics companies like Compete and Google, which can lead to inaccurate comparisons and conclusions. “It gets pretty crazy," he said.

Another problem that stems from the Web's inherent trackability, according to Christy Tanner, editor in chief and vp, marketing, TV Guide, is that too many publishers get fixated on driving up the measures that advertisers care about, such as page-views—without considering their site’s user experience. “If everything you do is based on [driving] advertiser metrics, you’re gonna lose your users,” she said.

CBSSports.com has tried to steer the conversation away from page-views and click-throughs toward time spent and user engagement (areas where it excels), but it has sometimes found it difficult to break ingrained habits, according to Kint. "A lot of the younger media buyers are looking at page-views and CPMs and click-through rates," he said. "That’s what they are negotiating on."

But to him, page-views have become “irrelevant.” He cited an example of a bracket tool that CBSSports.com launched earlier this year during the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. The tool proved to be popular among users, but because of the way it was designed—its content loaded on the site dynamically—it actually drove page-views down for that time period.

Video is in an even more challenged position, according to the panelists, since standards are lacking for even the most basic measures such as what constitutes a true video “view.”  Thus, the fast growing sector is subject to “bogus numbers,” offered Kint.

Online video syndication—an increasingly popular strategy for content creators--is particularly difficult to track, said Tanner. “We are not there yet with a really simple solution to track content on third parties,” she said. “What we really need is one analytics tool that tracks on-site traffic as well as the variety of syndicated products that we distribute, including video, widgets and other syndicated products.”

Yet another measurement challenge identified during Wednesday’s panel was clients’ increased desire for more custom ad packages. Those often require conducting proprietary research in order for sites to prove their value. And even then, not everything that is new and different can easily be benchmarked. Tanner cited the example of some TV advertisers looking to track chatter about particular shows--chatter that happens either off TV Guide’s site or on social platforms like Twitter. Often, “these are things you can’t measure or that may end up looking bad,” she said.