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Audits Called For Nielsen/NetRatings, comScore

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) President and CEO Randall Rothenberg said he wants metrics firms Nielsen/NetRatings (NNR) and comScore to join the 21st century.

In an open letter to comScore President Magid Abraham and Nielsen/NetRatings President and CEO William Pulver, Rothenberg said he wants their companies to commit their interactive-audience measurement processes to a third-party audit.

The problem, Rothenberg writes, is that NNR and comScore numbers are still based on small samples of Internet users.

The sample sets are called "panels" in the advertising industry and Rothenberg laments their quaintness, recalling how in the 20th century there were "small panels of Americans who allowed their TV sets to be wired, filled in diaries, or sent prepaid postcards listing their preferences back to the research firms in the Princeton-New York corridor."

Quoting himself from an article in an 1998 issue of Wired, Rothenberg explains how these panels fail to take advantage of what he has always seen as the Internet's promise, "its ability to tell, to a high degree of certitude, how many people are coming to, perusing, and engaging with a media outlet."

Panel measurements, he argues, are the cause for discrepancies between server-logs and the numbers comScore and NNR publish. Those discrepancies make it too hard for advertisers to determine if they are getting what they are paying for at a time when they are increasingly relying on the Internet to market.

Internet advertising revenues rose by 34 percent in 2006 to $16.8 billion.

Rothenberg warns that the Internet advertising industry's growth, and consequently NNR and comScore's own, depend on "providing fact-based audience measurement."

He said that NNR and comScore should submit to a third-party audit led by the The Media Ratings Council (MRC), chartered by the United States Congress.

In a response email sent to internetnews.com, comScore said it welcomes the objective outlined in Rothenberg's letter of "achieving transparency in panel methods."

"comScore's panel methodologies reflect the investment of millions of dollars and years of research and development. We are confident that they will stand the scrutiny of a third party evaluation," comScore said, noting that it's already begun to work with the MRC.

ComScore defends the panel method by arguing that server logs over-report user visits due to the fact that, between visits to a particular site, users tend to delete the software servers use to identify unique visitors.

Nielsen//NetRatings did respond to requests for comment.