The Council for Research Excellence is an interesting consortium of about 40 senior media and advertising industry research professionals — all Nielsen media clients — funded by Nielsen, as a “research ‘think tank'” that conducts research on “what the CRE judges to be of industry-wide importance.” The CRE operates from the premise that “there is an ongoing knowledge gap in our industry because certain research studies are simply too big and/or too costly for any single company to handle.” Essentially, the CRE is an effort by Nielsen and its clients to address the widespread concerns that the techniques and technologies of audience measurement are not keeping pace with the rate of technological and behavioral change in the media environment.
Needless to say, online audience measurement represents a point of particular concern. For a number of years now, online audience measurement has followed one of two paths — either panel-based systems in which a sample of web users have their behaviors monitored via monitoring software installed on their computers; or, server log analyses, which analyze the traffic data stored on web sites’ servers.
The strengths and weaknesses of each approach are well documented. I talk about them a fair bit in Audience Evolution. The bottom line is that getting accurate demographic data is easier via panels, but measuring traffic on the full range of available web sites is easier via server log approaches.
Today, though, measurement firms are focusing on approaches that integrate the two techniques. For this reason, the CRE has just issued a Request for Proposals to study the state of the art in what the CRE calls “hybrid Digital Audience Measurement methodologies.” Specifically, the CRE is looking for a research partner who will conduct a survey of web publishers on their data collection and maintenance approaches.
These efforts to move beyond traditional panel and server log analyses represent a fundamental and vital next step in the evolution of the online audience. Should online audience measurement reach a point where stakeholders’ need for detailed demographic information and their need to measure very far down into the Long Tail can simultaneously be accurately and reliabily met in a single, integrated service, the already rapid rate at which advertising dollars are migrating from traditional media to the online space will increase dramatically.