Increasingly ugly arguments in the Australian online advertising industry about how to measure website audiences have prompted five senior executives to join the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
The bureau has spent almost a year trying to sort out the messy state of online audience measurement in Australia and answer the calls by marketers and media buyers for a single system that is compatible with the audience research provided by companies in media sectors such as radio, television and newspapers.
Myriad audience research systems are used in Australia, including two from Nielsen Online, individual websites' log files and surveys by Roy Morgan Research, Hitwise, Google and comScore.
Yesterday, the IAB announced that Rohan Lund from Yahoo!7, Tony Faure from the PBL Media-Microsoft joint venture ninemsn, Nick Leeder from News Ltd, Bill Burton from Telstra's BigPond division and Nic Cola from Fairfax Media's digital division had joined its board.
It also said it was looking for its first chief executive.
One of the new board members' first tasks will be to help develop a new audience measurement system and ease the growing concern among marketers and media buyers — who spent A$1.35 billion (NZ$1.57 billion) on online advertising last year — about the confusing and often contradictory data produced by current systems.
The structure and cost of a new system and how it would be funded has not been determined.
"As an industry we recognise the need to do a better job of showing marketers how digital connects with consumers to build brands," Faure says.
"This is the key to closing the gap between our share of media time and our share of advertising revenue."
According to Morgan, the internet accounted for 18% of Australians' media consumption time last year. But its share of total media advertising revenue was only about 10%. Cola says providing new audience data was a key part of the strategy to close that gap.
"The industry needs to be able to supply advertisers with metrics which they can compare to those of other media," he says.
"We are on a path to adopting a comprehensive measurement system as an industry and we are committed to the process. This will give marketers a clear picture of website audiences."
The debate in Australia about flaws in online audience measurement systems mirrors developments in the United States. Last year the American Interactive Advertising Bureau chief executive Randall Rothenberg blasted Nielsen and comScore, the main providers of online audience research in the US.
"We in the marketing-media ecosystem have spent too many years trying to clean up the residue of flawed media research methodologies," he said.
"We simply cannot let the internet, the most accountable medium ever invented, fall into the same bad customs that have hindered older media and angered advertisers for decades."
— Australian Financial Review