ABC reverses stance on Web metrics

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By: Jennifer Saba

T his fall, the newspaper industry is finally getting a taste of something that’s been cooking for at least two years: The Audit Bureau of Circulations’ Audience-FAX report for the period ending September 2008 ? released at the end of October ? marked the first time that comparables are available. Why does this matter? Newspapers are now able to show if their total market reach ? when Web sites are taken into consideration ? has increased.

But one key aspect changed suddenly as E&P was going to press.

During ABC’s July board meeting, the organization, along with the Newspaper Association of America’s audience committee, decided to pass a modification to Audience-FAX that would affect the approximately 200 participating dailies.

All tier-one newspapers ? of which there are 140 in some top 80 markets, confirms ABC spokesman Neal Lulofs ? were required to submit panel-based metrics from either Nielsen Online (owned by E&P’s parent company) or comScore. In past periods, newspapers were free to submit any metric including those that measured directly from server log files. Tier-two papers, in fact, are still allowed to put forward server-based data since panel-based companies inadequately cover smaller dailies.

The NAA’s Newspaper Audience Leadership Council (NALC), meanwhile, weighed the outcomes of going completely “panel” this fall. A September letter to Audience-FAX participants from NALC stated the committee “spent a considerable amount of time debating the merits and goals associated with the Web site usage component of Audience-FAX. The group recognized that while the Web measurement debate continues and authoritative Web usage measurement standards do not yet exist, it was still imperative to set reporting requirements for both the source and time period of the Web site activity.” Wide contrasts remain among Web metrics depending on the source, even among panel-based companies.

Leon Levitt, one of the leaders of NALC and vice president of digital media at Cox Newspapers, says the move was made for “consistency’s sake.” Tier-one newspapers, he adds, “have the option of submitting log files if they want to include them” for a nominal fee.

But just one week before Audience-FAX was to be released, ABC reversed course, allowing any newspaper to submit panel or server-based data. Lulofs wrote to E&P about the change: “Due to the late arrival of the Nielsen Online MegaPanel data and feedback from our newspaper members, ABC is suspending the requirement that all tier-one newspapers must cite panel data in their Audience-FAX reporting for the Sept. 2008 period. The ABC board will review the matter at its meeting in New York.”

Levitt maintains the most important data on the Audience-FAX is the integrated audience reach from Scarborough, not online uniques. “To me that is the exciting portion of this,” he says.

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