SBJ/December 17-23, 2012/Media

Sports sites look forward to benefits of comScore effort to include mobile stats

The unified metric that combines online and mobile traffic being developed by digital measurement agency comScore Inc. is likely to benefit sports media publishers in particular.

ComScore’s recently announced Media Metrix Multi-Platform seeks to blend traditional online data with audiences consuming digital content on smartphones and tablets. Still in beta form, the data is expected to be ready for broad release in the spring.

Such blended metrics have long been sought within the digital media industry, particularly given that mobile audiences are not included in current comScore rankings yet make up more than 50 percent of overall traffic for some outlets. The Media Metrix Multi-Platform will arrive after roughly two years of development by comScore toward a unified metric.

Sports publishers stand to gain disproportionately given that many leading outlets, such as ESPN, Yahoo and CBSSports.com, each anecdotally report internal traffic data showing huge spikes of traffic on weekends when users are typically on their smartphones and tablets as opposed to personal computers. Football season, between live tracking of real-life college and pro games and fantasy football on Sundays, is particularly noted for this dynamic.

In sample Media Metrix Multi-Platform data from September 2012 released by comScore, ESPN jumped from 47.3 million unique online users to 65.49 million when also including its mobile audience during the month. ESPN jumped from the 23rd-largest U.S. online audience, regardless of genre, to 19th in the new measurements. That represented the second-largest rise of any entity behind Internet radio outlet Pandora.

“We as consumers are really platform agnostic now and have brands follow us pretty much wherever we go,” said Andrew Lipsman, comScore vice president of industry analysis. “So it’s really important to have measurement that reflects that reality. There’s more refinement we need to do over the next several months, but we think having a set of unified, synthesized data will have a big impact on the marketplace.”

Third-party measurement data from companies such as comScore is widely used by marketers to aid in making advertising purchases.

ComScore is also seeking within the Media Metrix Multi-Platform index to develop a new “views” statistic that combines online page views, total video plays and mobile application starts to create an overall number of times with which each brand is engaged digitally. Engagement-based data such as time spent will also be part of comScore’s enlarged, cross-platform measurement.

ESPN, like several of its key competitors, internally has been promoting the advent of multiplatform audience measurements such as this for some time now.

“This beta data reinforces all the things we’ve learned over the past couple of years and see in our own internal analytics,” said David Coletti, ESPN vice president of digital media research and analytics. “We see this as a very encouraging development.”

Still, the new comScore data will likely not quell industry debate over the relative merit of panel-based measurement, which uses smaller audience samples, versus full server accounting to measure digital traffic. Media Metrix Multi-Platform will use both panel and census-based methodologies.

Also, within the sports category in particular, most of the leading entrants are roll-ups of several smaller outlets, with those amalgamations in a heightened state of flux over the past year, further complicating the task of measuring reach.

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