IQ News: Web Ratings Companies’ Union May End Online Traffic Gridlock

With the cry for standardization of Web measurement reaching a fever pitch, probably no development has done more for the cause than the decision last week by two of the industry’s competitors–until now locked in a heated online ratings battle–to merge.
The companies, New York-based Media Metrix and Atlanta-based RelevantKnowledge, had been notoriously outspoken about the superiority of their own ratings methods. Meanwhile, the online media industry has recently seemed to want nothing more than a peace treaty. For instance, measurement standardization was one of the big topics at August’s Future of Advertisers Stakeholders Summit hosted by Procter & Gamble.
Thus, industry leaders last week applauded the formation of the new entity, which will keep the Media Metrix name and add the tagline, “The Power of Relevant Knowledge.”
Richy Glassberg, senior vice president, general manager of Turner Interactive Sales, as well as vice chairman/treasurer of the Internet Advertising Bureau, said, “I think it’s a very positive move … Instead of focusing on the product needs, they’re focusing on solving workplace issues,” such as measuring online usage in business and at universities.
However, he cautioned that while the merger is a good first step, it remains to be seen if Media Metrix will fill the role it sees in the industry as the chief source for audience information.
Mary Ann Packo, who had been president and chief operating officer of Media Metrix, will retain those titles. She said last week the company will become the “leader in interactive audience meaurement, combining the strengths of each [company] and measuring all digital media.”
In terms of further management shifts, Jeff Levy, who was CEO of RelevantKnowledge, and Tim Cobb, president, now are vice chairmen of the Media Metrix board. Media Metrix chief executive officer Tod Johnson will retain his title.
The stock-for-stock transaction for an undisclosed amount creates a 90-employee company that can measure 15,000 Web sites and poll 40,000 people. Its combined client list of 250 companies includes Microsoft, America Online, Intel, IBM, General Motors and Yahoo.
If the merger will quiet the standardization controversy that has roiled the industry at least since RelevantKnowledge’s 1997 launch, some of that tongue-wagging will be taken up by talk about which company’s model the newly-merged entity will follow.
RelevantKnowledge was formed by former Turner executives Levy and Cobb partly in response to perceived problems several years ago with Media Metrix’s technology and methodology. While Relevant Knowledge said it could deliver traffic data in real-time, Media Metrix relied on its panel to mail a disk of online surfing information back to the company.
RelevantKnowledge also felt it would have greater success in tracking the hard-to-follow market of business users. The companies also had different methods of building a panel of users.
The new Media Metrix plans to use a hybrid model that will track Web and America Online usage in real-time and collect offline usage data by analyzing disks that users’ send back to the company.
Levy said the merger is in response to an industry-wide call for a reliable measurement with one methodology. He downplayed the companies’ previous bickering, explaining that an “apples to apples” comparison shows their methods of collecting data yield similar results 99 percent of the time. Although there are other Web audience measurement firms, such as Milpitas, Calif.-based NetRatings, Relevant- Knowledge and Media Metrix were the two leading companies in the category. However, further competition is on the horizon. Nielsen, the leader in television ratings, has long been expected to go public with a plan to enter the Web measurement field.
Media Metrix proposes five new areas of concentration: a larger sample of business users, including business-to-business transactions and electronic commerce; more frequent delivery of data; integration of audience data with server data so clients can compare unique visitors to hits; integration of quantitative with qualitative research; and the introduction of global data with international panels. The November data will still be collected from separate panels.