Audience Measurement Firms Race To The Finish Line — But Not There Yet

Last week, audience measurement firm Quantcast cleared a major hurdle when the Media Ratings Council approved the company’s free Quantified Publisher program for accreditation. It was roughly two years ago that Quantcast, as well as the other two top online audience measurement firms, Nielsen Online and comScore (NSDQ: SCOR), agreed to submit their respective services for MRC accreditation after being spurred on by the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s, which considers the independent MRC’s imprimatur crucial to driving more ad dollars to online.

At the moment, Quantcast appears to have won the race. But its two competitors are quick to say “not so fast.”

One of the main reasons that Quantcast is declaring victory is because it’s Quantified Publisher program is bit more limited than the offerings Nielsen and comScore have submitted.

For example, Quantcast did not seek accreditation for traffic estimates from ‘non-Quantified’ sites — i.e., those not using Quantcast measurement tags, nor for its demographic estimates. To get the MRC’s approval, Quantast had to agree to abide by the auditor’s Minimum Standards for Media Rating Research and the IAB’s guidelines covering ad impressions, including the separate rules governing digital video impressions, as well as audience reach measurement standards. It’s also promised to fully disclose its methodology and will submit to annual audits by CPA firms hired by the MRC — the bill for the audits will go to Quantcast.

While Quantcast received accreditation only for its site-centric data, the MRC’s approval does not cover other elements of audience measurement, such as unique visitors, demographics, audience duplication, cross-visitation, comScore said in a statement. The audit for comScore Direct, the site-centric component of its Media Metrix 360 methodology analogous to the Quantified Publisher program, is expected to be completed soon.

While comScore is drawing close to a similar milestone that Quantcast has claimed, Nielsen already completed the MRC’s pre-audit back in March 2006. In addition, the first phase of Nielsen’s MRC audit, which covers its meter technology, data capture and editing processes, was done by October 2008. This past March, Nielsen finished “Phase 2,” which covers the panel measurement backend processing