Nielsen and comScore are both introducing online measurement services that aim to offer audience data that is more comparable to television ratings. Traditional ratings and online measurement services are vying to establish a common currency, while companies like Google are redefining the way advertising is traded. Americans are now watching 14 hours of online video a month, 4.5 hours of which is on YouTube, but adverts only constitute 1% of online video viewing time. As online video advertising increases in value, it is capable of supporting incredibly sophisticated reporting. The irony is that advertisers seem more comfortable with familiar ratings figures.

Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings aims to provide greater accuracy, faster reporting and wider coverage than existing online measurement systems. It will combine traditional online and television panel data with aggregated, anonymous demographic information from online partners. This will provide reach, frequency and gross rating point measures for online advertising campaigns, available within days of the launch of a campaign and during its run.

Following trials later this year, the system will be commercially available from 2011, initially focussing on the United States, with the aim of extending to other global markets.

“This new system will provide marketers with a better understanding of their return on investment, and will give media companies a much needed tool to prove the value of their audiences,” said Steve Hasker, the president of media products at Nielsen. “Perhaps most importantly, marketers and media companies alike will now have a simpler way to measure the combined reach of television, the web and even mobile advertising. Reach alone doesn’t tell the whole story, however, and Nielsen intends to combine the ratings with cross-platform advertising effectiveness metrics to provide a complete view.”

The system uses a single pixel beacon image that is requested when a particular display or video advertisement is presented. It will allocate the requesting internet address to one of the 210 Nielsen designated marketing areas of DMAs. It is designed to measure the audience composition of a particular advertisement and will not collect or distribute information on an individual web user or facilitate targeted advertising.

“This initiative will advance a big measurement challenge facing digital — providing planners and buyers with a better understanding of the actual ratings a campaign delivered against a desired audience,” said Kate Sirkin, responsible for global research at Starcom MediaVest. “It will provide a more accurate picture of impressions delivered by different sites to different demographics. It will improve our understanding of the duplication between TV and online. It will help us become more efficient at building reach and frequency amongst our desired audiences.”

“Creating a shared metric for cross-media measurement is an important step supporting the evolution of digital measurement that transcends the interests of any one brand, category, agency or channel,” added Michael Atkin, responsible for media research in the United States at Omnicom Media Group.

Meanwhile, comScore has introduced gross rating point overnights to its AdEffx campaign reporting system.

“The new comScore AdEffx Campaign Essentials service offers greater reporting efficiency, granularity, and flexibility than has previously been available,” said Anne Hunter, responsible for advertising effectiveness solutions at comScore. “As the digital media planning environment becomes increasingly global and real-time, it has never been more important to be able to optimize campaigns, verify who is seeing them, and to be able to course-correct and retool on the fly if the media plan is not being executed effectively.” She said it will help brand advertisers optimize the value of their digital campaigns and “further accelerate the shift of ad dollars online”.

The value of online video advertising is currently a fraction of that of television, or even online advertising, but continues to rise.

The latest comScore rankings show that 178 million internet users in the United States watched over 14 hours of online video each in August, accounting from over 5 billion viewing sessions and some 3.8 billion video advertisements.

Over 85% of the total internet audience in the United States viewed online video. On average each video was just under 5 minutes long, skewed by the enormous popularity of YouTube. Video advertisements accounted for over 10% of all online videos viewed, but only 1% of of the total time spent viewing online video. The average duration for online video advertisements was 24 seconds.

YouTube was once again the hottest online video property, with 146 million viewers, watching nearly four and a half hours each a month, followed by Facebook, with 58 million viewers, watching just over 20 minutes a month.

The Nielsen and comScore initiatives are aimed at reporting online advertising exposure in terms that are familiar from television advertising, enabling broadcast and online campaigns to be measured on a more comparable basis.

The irony is that while online media supports sophisticated placement and measurement, the advertising industry appears more comfortable with the relatively blunt tools with which they have grown accustomed from broadcast media.

However, the reality is that this will make it easier for media planners to understand and report their advertising spend. That will encourage more emphasis on cross-platform campaigns and ultimately more of the budget to be spent online.