Use It or Lose It: Tracking Content Usage and ROI

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Delivering, Regardless of Delivery Method
"In the mid-1990s, it was all about getting your site up and the number of eyes on it; but that's only good for an eye bank," says Rand Schulman, WebSideStory CMO. He adds that websites have different major objectives: sites designed to deliver content in return for advertising or subscription fees; ecommerce sites that want to sell products; sites designed for lead generation want to capture leads; and self-service centers for customers and knowledge workers are designed to decrease a customer's cost.

"The most interesting are the content sites," Schulman says. "The longer they can get people to stay there, the longer they can present them with advertising vehicles." He says WebSideStory's software enables online publications like to not only track reader hits on a particular article, but also test headlines, page placement, and design issues such as graphics and colors that produce the best results.

It's not just online publications and their advertisers who are demanding accurate counts in order to determine ROI of econtent. Online sites for broadcasters like CNN, the major networks, and internet-only video providers are also looking for econtent measurement tools, according to Schulman. He points to reality shows like CBS' Survivor, which now sells advertising packages that combine traditional broadcast commercials along with additional online ads. Online viewers must watch these streaming ads online before watching bonus footage on the website. Accurate measurement of online viewers is important to content producers for current revenue and to set future advertising rates.

"Video providers are very early in the adoption curve," Schulman says. "Monetization of this content is going to be the key to the establishment and rollout of this media." Recent moves by broadcasters to make popular shows like Desperate Housewives available via streaming media could well be the first in a trend to move more syndicated content to the internet, lending further importance to tracking and measuring ROI, according to Schulman.

While many online viewers will watch the bonus content by clicking through a website, an increasing number of people rely on RSS feeds. The number of RSS subscribers is growing by 6%-15% per year, according to Forrester Research. As more video content moves to RSS feeds, providers and advertisers need to know that the content has been consumed, rather than just downloaded, and that any imbedded ads have indeed been watched, says Bill Flitter, VP of marketing for Pheedo, Inc. 

"In the last year or so, there's been a resurgence in looking more closely at the numbers and a lot of fine tuning of advertising campaigns," Flitter says. "Marketers know that every online click and conversion is trackable. They're making the same demands in the RSS world." So it's important to provide tracking statistics that measure not just RSS downloads, but also whether an RSS feed is actually viewed and how long it is viewed: Was an ad or other content turned off 10% or midway through? Or was it watched in its entirety? Specific usage information like this helps econtent providers and advertisers determine how to structure RSS feeds, including the content and tone of news and entertainment and the best placement(s) of advertisements within feeds, according to Flitter. 

Further driving this development is the push from studios to deliver content for portable devices, says Kit Knox, CTO for Nine Systems Corp. "There are two methods of doing this: subscriptions and the ad-supported model," Knox says. "In the ad-supported model, payment is based on the consumption of the ads," which requires an accurate tracking mechanism. 

An increasing amount of content beyond just music is becoming available for iPods and other portable devices. As the downloading and viewing of econtent becomes more portable and more convenient, viewership is expected to grow, further driving the need for accurate measurement. To this end, Nine Systems provides Stream OS, a suite of configurable rich media management tools that enable publishing of rich media to the web, detailed usage reports, ad insertion, rights management, and ecommerce. 

"For rich media, there had been no measurement reporting capability at all," Knox says. This enables content providers and advertisers "to see how many unique users they have and how much of the content is being consumed." 

Use of the detailed reports of rich media consumption is still in its infancy with only a small percentage of Nine Systems customers actively using it, yet these reports are becoming more important as consumption of rich media grows, according to Knox. "The more advanced customers couldn't live without that functionality."

Behavioral Targeting
"Media companies are starting to deliver advertisements based on a person's econtent usage," says Dave Morgan, CEO of Tacoda, Inc., an online advertising company. "They're delivering auto ads to people who have been looking for autos, and international travel ads to people who have been looking at travel destinations."

By tracking how a person clicks through various econtent, a digital newspaper, for example, will deliver different electronic ads to viewers with different viewing histories, Morgan explains. A person who goes to the auto page (or auto ads) first or who has visited that area several times recently might get two auto ads and three other ads on the right side of the next page or section he visits, while another person who has been viewing travel destinations might receive two travel ads and three other ads when going to the site's next page.

Auto ads on the auto pages aren't getting noticed because there are so many, Morgan explains, while an auto ad on another page stands out a little more—but only for the person who is showing a propensity to buy. 

"The trend towards behavioral targeting began about three years ago along with the rebound of online advertising, which is more efficient than traditional advertising," Morgan adds. In addition to econtent sites, this type of behavioral advertising based on econtent usage is also starting to grow with specialty sites such as, according to Morgan, who says that such behavioral advertising can increase revenues for econtent pages by 5%-10%.

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