NEW YORK If there's one constant in the never-ending battle over Web metrics, it's complaints about measurement panels. Upstart Quantcast is betting it can turn that discontent into a thriving business by supplementing panels with server-level data from sites themselves. The hard part: the approach requires publishers to put a small piece of code on their sites.
The two-year-old company is starting to make headway. Quantcast has signed up MTV Networks to use its tracking technology on its portfolio of sites, netting the firm one of its biggest catches yet -- and an endorsement of its method of counting Web visitors. The company boasts that 80,000 Web publishers -- including NBC, CBS and several Time Inc. properties -- use its service.
"More and more of the top 100 publishers are signing up to use our service," said Todd Teresi, the former Yahoo! executive who recently joined Quantcast as chief revenue officer. "There are a lot of publishers who are using our data to create more value for themselves."
That momentum is critical as Quantcast refines its business model to complement its current free service.
Teresi said in the next year, the company would move to implement a system that, in some instances, charges clients based on their use of insights gleaned from Quantcast data to create targeted ad campaigns. For example, Quantcast sees an opportunity to help an advertiser like American Express reach high-net worth consumers likely to respond to an offer for a Platinum card based on inferences made from data it collects on sites across the Web.
"The future is about attaching measurement to delivery of the end content or advertising," Teresi said. "That connection of strategy and planning to buying and delivery is where the digital medium is headed."
Web measurement data is critical to media planners, helping them determine which sites hit their advertisers' target audiences. It also assists publishers looking to package their audiences.
Yet publishers and agencies have long grumbled that the dominant services -- Nielsen Online (which shares a parent company with Adweek) and comScore -- do not accurately measure audiences, particularly those beyond the most visited sites, because of the shortcomings of extrapolating from a panel sample.
Some complain that panel services miss office use and are inaccurate at measuring the niche destinations now so critical for advertisers to reach.
"When you're relying on the sample, it's hard to capture the scope of the audience," said Nada Stirratt, evp of digital advertising for MTV Networks. "Our strategy of over they years has been to go deep, and you physically won't be able to come up with a panel large enough."
"I don't think they can provide the level of granularity that's useful for online planning," said Young-Bean Song, senior director of the Atlas Institute at Microsoft. "You're going to have to leverage the server-side approach because there's too much fragmentation.
Quantcast, according to an agency source, is "getting some traction on both the advertiser and publisher side and comScore is clearly threatened."
ComScore has aggressively questioned some of Quantcast's data sources, according to the buyer.
ComScore chairman Gian Fulgoni believes Quantcast downplays its reliance on panels to come up with its demographic data -- and questions how accurate its panel data is because ComScore has tracked it to information provided by dialup provider United Online." It's not representative in any way, shape or form of the Internet population," he said. "Second, if you're using ISP data, you have no idea who is on the computer at any point in time."
"We can talk about data sources and companies pointing fingers," Teresi said. "At the end of the day, it's about whether we're creating more value for our constituencies."