Old media measurement techniques are “bullshit” and will be swept away by the accuracy of digital metrics. Media owners, brands and advertisers had just better get used to it. The shift from estimated reach and reader surveys to genuine figures and evidence means there’s nowhere for publishers to hide any more.
This revolutionary cant is from Ben Hammersley, a long-time digital journalist and publisher, head of digital at the SIX Creative agency (which made Vogue’s iPad app), editor-at-large at Wired UK, fellow Frontline Club member and general internet polymath. He told APA’s Content Summit 2010 in London earlier today (watch the video above) that the introduction of accuracy to media metrics is one of the key shifts in the content business.
If this conference was a social network, I was pressing a giant “like” button pretty much throughout Hammersley’s entire speech. His point on metrics rings true: the Audit Bureau of Circulations – which measures print as well as digital reach through ABCe – has long sought for ways to accurately portray a title’s audience.
But online and offline the system is flawed an inaccurate. Readership surveys are unscientific and, in the case of the National Readership Survey, can’t be compared from year to year (inexplicably) because the size and profile of the sample changes every single time they are carried out.
But as Hammersley says, there’s nothing stopping publishers going to as buyers with their own figures for Google Analytics or any number of other internal measuring services.
ABC figures were never a real reflection of audience. Many titles used to, and some still do, include “bulks” in their headline figure: these are freebie give-aways to hotels and airlines. Though high-end hotel and airline customers are a valuable constituency for advertisers, it’s a huge mistake to assume these people, however rich, are engaging with the brand and content they may or may not have in their hands. (The Guardian, News International and others have since dropped bulks – see the Guardian’s tag page for this.).
Has the online picture got any better? I’d argue the old print model is in fact being transposed to online. ABCe measures reach in much the same way – a figure showing how many people came to a site, worked out as a daily average. Some months people go up, some months people go down. There is still that schoolboy mentality of wanting to “win” at the game of ABCe. Mirror digital chief Matt Kelly is very good on the meaningless chase for big online metrics at the expense of building an actual audience.
And anyway – isn’t revenue the only metric that really matters?