In what may set a precedent in Web ad measurement, Microsoft has hired accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand to provide quarterly advertising audits of all of the online content properties in Microsoft's Interactive Media Group.
Although Web auditing has grown rapidly in the last year, as major online properties have sought to develop customized audience reports, this deal differs from industry standards in two ways. First, Microsoft is asking Coopers to audit only Microsoft's ad delivery system, not the audiences for the Web sites themselves. Second, Coopers will be looking at Microsoft's ad delivery process by randomly spot-checking individual advertiser reports.
"We really needed to provide audits of what we are actually selling," said Steve Goldberg, group manager, strategy and development for Microsoft's advertising business unit. "The difference from traditional new media auditing, if you can call it traditional, is that we'll be looking at the process," said Tom Hyland, a Coopers partner and chairman of the firm's new media group. The initial audit will track Microsoft's third-quarter 1997 ads.
In hiring Coopers, Microsoft has let its contract expire with industry leader I/Pro, which has been under pressure to improve its auditing services. I/Pro has lost business from other major Internet media companies this year, including search engine Yahoo!.
Goldberg said Microsoft was continuing discussions with a number of measurement firms, including I/Pro, Media Metrix and plan, about how best to count Web audiences, which the Coopers deal does not address. "There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle of advertising tracking and reporting," he said. "One piece is audience size, and another piece is advertising delivery."
For Coopers, the Microsoft deal is the first time it has gone public about a client win from its recently formed new media group. "In terms of the Internet, this is our first big play with Microsoft, and it's our first big rollout for this industry," Hyland said.
Coopers is working with other, undisclosed Web publishers. It is also in talks with Intel, which plans a massive $85 million co-op Web ad program. The chip giant wants to make sure its advertising partners are delivering on their promise to plug Intel in online ads.