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Measuring the digital medium

One of the primary reasons for the growth of digital advertising globally has been the ability of the medium to deliver measurable results to the advertiser. It is somewhat ironic that, in India, there is no single “source of truth”. Arun Tadanki writes.

india Updated: Sep 18, 2011 22:32 IST
Arun Tadanki

One of the primary reasons for the growth of digital advertising globally has been the ability of the medium to deliver measurable results to the advertiser. It is somewhat ironic that, in India, there is no single “source of truth”.

The estimated user base of internet users in India, depending on whom you talk to, is a rather absurd range of 60 million to 100 million users.

There are several reasons for this basic gap in the estimation of the universe.

Firstly, there is no standard to the definition of who an internet user is. Some studies define an internet user as “anyone who accessed the internet during the last one month”, whereas some other studies are based on “ever used” or “claimed usage”.

Well-known third party monitors such as ComScore do not measure cybercafé traffic or users below 15 years of age, leaving plenty of scope for an erroneous picture of the market.

It doesn’t quite help when big publishers, out of the blue, claim somewhat exaggerated estimation of the universe and it only raises basic credibility questions on the size of the universe.

The rapid growth of mobile users (accessing the internet) has only added a new twist to the tale. There are no reliable third party estimates, such as ComScore, on how many mobile internet users are there in India. They simply don’t measure mobile internet usage yet.

There certainly isn’t much clarity around the overlapping users between mobile and PC, adding further confusion. The problem of inaccuracy is more acutely felt when some leading research agencies estimate the mobile internet user base as 15 million as of March 2011 (up from two million in 2009!).

Anyone who has any firsthand experience in the category will vouch for a much larger universe than these estimates and many individual sites have higher traffic than the estimated universe.

When there is such a big gap in the universe estimation, it is not at all surprising that the digital industry has successfully confused advertisers by mixing up various parameters such as monthly unique users, user sessions and the like to measure the reach and impact of a campaign.

Press releases, everyday, around live streaming, somewhat quietly mix up video streams with page views and unique users, which are very different measurements. It is, of course, tempting for publishers to claim data that suits their story but at a larger level, it has only raised confusing questions about the category.

If digital advertising has to emerge as a mainstream medium, it is critical to have reliable estimates on the size of the universe, trends and usage patterns of the audience.

There must be a single source of truth that everyone in the ecosystem relies upon. This must be one of the primary goals of any industry body representing internet and mobile companies in India.

Big advertisers will shift the budgets online based on credible and reliable data and not based on fancy claims of individual publishers.

(The writer is MD, Yahoo! India)