A monthly reminder that online video remains a work in progress is comScore's viewership data for online video ad networks. Even as someone who follows the industry closely, I find these reports confusing. The press releases often distributed by various online video ad networks touting their progress only adds to the confusion. I touched on this last month, and to clear away some of the fog, last week I spoke to Tania Yuki, comScore's product manager for its Video Metrix measurement service.
comScore's traffic reports are extremely important for the online video industry's growth because they are a key source of data for advertisers, media buyers, agencies and others looking to tap into this new medium. Ad networks in particular are an important part of the online video ecosystem because they provide significant reach, targeting and delivery technology, all of which are required by prospective advertisers.
A key part of the current confusion is that each month comScore's Video Metrix Ad Focus report - which details the total audience of unique viewers for online properties and ad networks - combines both the actual audience of destination properties with the potential reach of video ad networks. For example, here's the top 10 for April:
As you can see, 5 of the top 10 listed are ad networks, whose measurement is potential, while the other 5 are actuals. "Potential" is supposed to represent the aggregate number of viewers of all the sites that the ad network has the right to place ads on. However even the validity of this number is amorphous, because networks are only required to provide comScore proof of their relationships if the site accounts for more than 2% of all streaming or web activity.
Recognizing the need to provide more clarity, comScore has recently made available the option for networks to participate in a "hybrid" measurement approach, meant to track networks' actual viewership. To participate, networks need to place a 1x1 pixel, or "beacon" inside any video player where their ads appear. comScore takes the data reported by the beacons and combines it with its 2 million member panel of users whose behavior it tracks. It reconciles differences between the two through a "scaling" process that looks at the intensity of users' non-video behaviors.
To give a sense of the difference between potential and actual, comScore reports BrightRoll - which along with Nabbr are the only video ad networks to have implemented the beacons by April - as having 26M actual viewers vs. the 62M potential reported.
comScore's hybrid approach, which fits with its recently-announced "Media Metrix 360" service, is an important step forward in providing more clarity on how video ad networks are actually performing. Still, as Tania explained, even the hybrid approach has its own idiosyncrasies. For example, some publishers resist having a network's beacon incorporated into their video player, because they want to receive traffic credit themselves. Further, it is a voluntary program. Tania said that in addition to BrightRoll and Nabbr, other networks like BBE, YuMe and Tremor are all working through the implementation currently.
The actual numbers are important for buyers, so that ad networks' viewership can be assessed on an "apple to apples" basis with online properties, as well as non-video options. Tania said that media buyers tell comScore they value both potential and actual numbers. Though that sounds right to me, I think that for the online video medium to mature, buyers are going to put increasing emphasis on actual performance, particularly as it relates to existing media. That's why recent efforts from YuMe and Tremor to translate online video's impact into TV's gross rating points (GRP) paradigm are also important.
In short, comScore seems to be doing its part to improve reporting clarity. However, this isn't going to resolve itself overnight; the market will continue to experience reporting confusion for some time to come.
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