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Exclusive: ABC and PwC to launch combined print and online audience metrics

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The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) is to launch a combined print circulation and online readership measurement report early next year, in a likely partnership with PwC, TheMediaBriefing has learned.

The new report will provide an accurate, deduplicated measure of readers accessing content through different mediums - in line with audience measurement reports PwC provides for the Financial Times, UBM Built Environment and Centaur Media. The new metric is expected to include tablet and smartphone readers

We spoke to several sources including publishers and media buyers who confirmed, on condition of anonymity, that the bureau is in the late stage of long-running talks with PwC client organisations.

The ABC wouldn't confirm those discussions but CEO Jerry Wright said in an emailed statement: "Any new ABC Reporting Standards are always based on cross industry consensus. It is this consensus which allows media owners and buyers to trade with confidence based on comparable and independently-verified data.

"We will be reviewing with our Board in December how best to meet these needs."

Tim Potter, MD of Centaur Media's Business Publishing division  - who runs the Centaur titles such as Marketing Week - says he wasn't involved in the discussions but broadly welcomed the plan, signalling Centaur may re-join the ABC auditing system.

He told us: "We would certainly welcome [the new metric] as an industry initiative and would want to participate in that.

"We are very keen that as an industry we should be moving in this direction. Clearly it is the kind of measure that should be adopted across the board."

And in a separate development, the ABC is also making another forward thinking move - it's developing a desktop app to make it easier for publishers to access circulation data - though no release date has been set. 

What does this mean?

While the ABC won't confirm these plans, they are vital for the body to remain relevant. Publishers - and more importantly advertisers - still view the ABC figures as the gold standard to base ad rates on, across the industry.

But the launch of monthly NRS stats combining print and online readership, and the defection of UBM and Centaur to PwC's measurement system have begun to make the ABC look a little behind the curve - particularly for specialist, B2B publishers.

The ABC's new metric isn't simply about removing duplicate readers - it's about adapting to shifting media consumption habits:

-- Changing behaviour: Online audiences have grown rapidly and measurement tools have failed to keep up. Advertisers want to know how big an audience is in what way it accesses content - but so far publishers haven't been able to show this to the market in a unified way.

-- Broad categories are no longer enough: Targeted advertising used to be about picking a demographic and putting your ads somewhere a large number of people in that category were likely to see them. It's a model of questionable effectiveness and one which doesn't match the interactive nature of online advertising. It's better to know who your readers are, than how many.

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