Increasingly organizations are including on-line sources in their media analysis. Whether its adding the on-line version of a newspaper like www.nytimes.com or a blog like Engadget, the practice is causing havoc with those of us trying to calculate “Opportunities to See, (OTS).
The problem comes when you try to put web-site numbers on the same chart as print media. It just doesn’t work. Here’s why: The circulation of the New York Times is 1.1 million, the OTS for www.nytimes.com is 11,405,000 – worldwide its 22 million. So, first of all the eyeballs you reach in print may or may not be the same ones you reach on line – so you may be duplicating your reach. Secondly, it is much more accurate to compare data between print publications, i.e. LA Times vs NY Times because the audiences are calculated in a similar way.
Print media is audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulation and the circ figures for most publications are published in a variety of directories like Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS). If you are tracking broadcast coverage, there’s Nielsen and Arbitron. However, when it comes to calculating OTS on line things get a bit murkier.
Virtually all data today comes from either Nielsen Net Ratings or Comscore. Nielsen has the power of the Nielsen brand behind it, Comscore claims greater accuracy and data on 8000 publications. They both use huge panels to track online behavior and rank the various sites.
The problem occurs if you are using multiple vendors for your on-line clippings, because chances are good that they don’t all use the same numbers. For years we’ve relied on PRTrak data. They use Comscore and we’ve generally found the data to be very good. But ironically, their parent company VMS is obviously using a different source, since their numbers don’t match the ones from PRTrak.
Frankly for the purposes of media content anlaysis, consistency is far more important than whether a circ figure is off by a few thousand. Start with one definition of OTS and stick with it. What you do NOT want to do is switch sources in mid stream. For more on this topic check out what the IAB has to say.