DoubleClick Quietly Launches Diameter Unit

Online advertising leader DoubleClick has quietly launched a Web site touting a research unit dubbed “Diameter,” in a move that sheds light on the company’s plans to challenge some of the established leaders in the field.

Spokespeople from New York-based DoubleClick declined to speak at length about the unit, which has yet to be officially launched. And it’s not clear whether Diameter is a subsidiary or a retooled version of DoubleClick’s Research division: the site calls Diameter “an online research company that draws on the combined technology experience and industry leadership of DoubleClick and @plan.”

Nevertheless, it is clear that DoubleClick is finally making overt strides to position its newly-acquired audience measurement and tracking capabilities in a way that directly competes with established companies in the area — namely, Nielsen//NetRatings and Jupiter Media Metrix.

“Diameter intends to become the only source of research you need for everything you do online,” it says.

DoubleClick-watchers have been waiting to see how the online advertising giant would integrate @plan, a Web media research and analytics firm that it purchased last year, and comScore, an online audience research company with which it recently signed a reselling and product development agreement.

To date, DoubleClick has kept especially quiet about its plans for future products incorporating @plan — which provides Web media buyers with demographic and research data on visitors to a number of leading Web publishers.

Earlier this month, Doug Knopper, vice president and general manager of DoubleClick Research, told’s Internet Advertising Report that the company soon would be rolling out three kinds of research products — based on @plan’s media intelligence research, comScore’s audience measurement product, and what Knopper called DoubleClick’s existing online ad effectiveness measurement research.

It’s not clear at this point just what products the unit will offer. In addition to @plan’s research, Diameter’s product offerings apparently will also include research based on comScore’s 1.5 million netScore panel. Similarly to firms like Jupiter Media Metrix and Nielsen//Netratings, the company uses its panel to project traffic measurement and demographic analytics.

NetScore’s panel, however, dwarfs the competition with a panel of about 1.5 million participants. Jupiter Media Metrix has 60,000 in its U.S. panel and 50,000 more in its international panel, while Netratings uses a global panel of 220,000, which includes a domestic group of 70,000.

DoubleClick’s positioning of the netScore product, and competitors’ counterattacks, likely foreshadows what the Internet industry can expect as the online advertising leader muscles itself into serious contention.

For example, the Diameter site cites what it says is a “sounder methodology and larger samples” that provides clients a “fundamentally better way to plan and evaluate online campaigns and strategies … from a richer understanding of your target’s online behavior and purchasing patterns to a more detailed analysis of your campaign’s effectiveness.”

“We’ve clearly made a very large commitment to being a part of the research space,” Knopper said. “Certainly we’ve put our money where our mouth is with the @plan acquisition and comScore position.”

The DoubleClick effort, however, will certainly face challenges from its competitors. While @plan is largely considered one of the leaders in its niche, critics of netScore contend that its panel is less statistically trustworthy that competitors.

Most of these arguments center around comScore’s panel-building practices. Unlike Jupiter Media Metrix and Nielsen//Netratings, comScore’s netScore 1.5 million-person panel is built using what it said are “affiliate programs, advertising and other methods.”

comScore also incentivizes its netScore panel participants by providing an “Internet accelerator” program and entries into a “high-value sweepstakes,” according to the company’s vice president of marketing, Kevin Garton. Such practices, critics say, could skew comScore’s panel — for instance, making participation in the panel appeal to a demographic that enjoys sweepstakes, but doesn’t necessarily represent the rest of the Internet.

However, Garton said the company also uses a smaller “calibration panel” that is based entirely on random phone number dialing and direct mailing — and that a combination of a randomly-selected calibration panel with a larger, non-random sample is most effective, especially when talking about sample size. The benefit of our method is you get a larger panel, and ultimately … a panel that can project more accurately.”

“Our panel size itself more accurate in reporting traffic and unique visitors [than competitors’] … additionally, we’ve done some validations and we tend to be closer to what sites themselves are reporting in terms of unique visitors,” he said. “The size of panel is significant, but also, we have representation across various demographic and age groups. Because of its large size, the panel has significant representation across all segments.”

Nevertheless, competitors are skeptical.

“Really, it comes down to quality, and what clients are looking for,” said Stacie Leone, vice president of global communications for Jupiter Media Metrix. “The marketplace has shown us time and time again that they’re going to choose quality over price, or quality over overblown promises.”

“Quantity doesn’t equal quality … and recruitment is critical,” Leone added. “A lot of time and expense have to go into panel recruitment, or Media Metrix would have opted into [comScore’s] solution a long time ago.”

Netratings’ executive vice president for products and services, Tim Meadows, echoed Leone’s comments.

“The whole issue of quality of information is not a case of ‘size matters,’ it’s how accurate your sample is, in representing the total Internet population,” he said.

Nevertheless, DoubleClick last week said it is adamant about the viability of, and need for, its Research business.

“We think we’ve built a better mouse trap here,” Knopper said. “The comScore data has got a lot of richness and robustness not previously available in the market.”

“The sample size is massively larger than anything else that’s available in the marketplace. Much, much deeper in metrics both in terms of getting understanding of it in detail … but also higher level of accuracy. We [also] have a truly representative sample … a real level of accuracy and detail.”

Previously, DoubleClick executives have also said that the company could release a product that combines its Research unit with offerings from its Data division, which is based on last year’s acquisition of offline database marketer Abacus Direct. Abacus’ database of buyer behavior is the largest in the United States, and contains more than 3.5 billion transactions from more than 90 million U.S. households, as well as members’ demographic and geographical data.

Knopper declined to comment on DoubleClick’s efforts in that arena, although he did confirm that the company sees “a lot of potential.”

“There’s the possibility of a million and a half people [in the netScore panel] … and possibilities of what you can do with other databases available in the industry, or that we may have access to. We are looking toward combination possibilities.”

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