SBJ/November 28-December 4, 2011/In Depth

Measuring mobile traffic may be the toughest challenge yet for online metrics

The hotly debated world of online metrics, for years a sore spot among sports content publishers, is even worse when considering mobile content consumption.

With no universally accepted third-party outlet for measuring mobile traffic, and with highly disparate content models between dedicated applications on various wireless platforms as well as the mobile Web, getting reliable numbers remains a constant challenge.

“It’s still all so colossally wrong,” said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive, referring to monthly third-party rankings of online sports traffic. Those lists do not count wireless traffic, which for MLBAM, according to internal metrics, passed 50 percent of overall site consumption for the first time during this past summer.

ComScore, among others, is trying to tackle the problem, developing new measurement models to better monitor what it calls “digital omnivores.” Of particular interest is getting more reliable data for content consumption on tablets. But efforts generally remain in a formative stage.

“Audience measurement can no longer be confined to the desktop or laptop environment to understand the full profile of today’s digital consumer,” comScore said in a recent white paper on multiplatform content consumption. “Holistic audience measurement — understanding consumer behaviors across computer, mobile, tablet and other connected devices — will be increasingly important as brands seek to optimize strategies and allocate dollars appropriately across platforms.”

Sports is particularly challenged in this area. That same comScore white paper said the share of all non-computer online traffic in the U.S. during August was 6.8 percent. But many sports entities, including MLBAM, ESPN.com, 247Sports.com, and others, garner at least 20 percent, and sometimes much more, of their monthly traffic from mobile sources.

Checking scores, game video and other data during nights and weekends, not surprisingly, is a particular driver of mobile sports content. And the iPad in particular has developed from literally nothing less than two years ago to a multibillion-dollar per year business for Apple, and to many observers, a big part of the future of overall content consumption.

As a result, most major sports publishers are selling mobile advertising inventory against their own internal metrics and other more crude statistics, such as Apple iTunes rankings, that chart app sales but not usage post-purchase.
“We’re making a big bet on mobile, and that’s where our traffic is absolutely growing the most. So we’re watching all of this very carefully,” said Shannon Terry, 247Sports.com founder and chief executive.

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