Cross-Media Measurement: Sort Of

This one from @FredWilson caught my eye. At first I got excited, then discouraged, then had a mixed (and more nuanced, I hope) reaction. I got excited because I thought media measurement firm comScore was finally going solve the holy grail of measurement across platforms -- meaning not just digital, but everything: TV, Web, radio, etc. I've been working on a sponsored white paper (early chapters here), during which it's become clear to me that while TV is the big kahuna, digital would get more ad revenue if it could better quantify a) unduplicated audience/community and b) cross-platform impact across media. Yes, OPA and others have done individual studies, but we lack a continued consistent metric that provides,  say, a trailing average over time.

comScore, according to Fred, is measuring across computer and mobile screens only, alas. Well, it's beginning. Correlating the two, we get a sense of what media/tech properties are up, down, rising and falling in each, and can put them in relative context. We see, for example, that Google is the 800-lb gorilla. Period. Though there is a lot of duplication of users, their mobile strategy seems to have made them dominant into the future.

The real measurement, though, would look not at computer screens vs. an insufficient lumping together of mobile, but rather at experience, which is really more relevant for media consumption (and, by extension, commercial effect). Let's say we could, within the bounds of protecting privacy, tell not just on what platform someone is consuming but how. Watching on a TV in the living room is from the smaller older screen in the kitchen. An hour-long show on Hulu or Netflix is different from clips YouTube, regardless the screen. And so on.

Plus, we in media have to acknowledge that no matter how good we get at this stuff, perfection is infinitely far away: You can get closer by halving the distance, but you'll never arrive. No matter the measurement you really can't tell exactly what's going on, especially in the ever-important long tail that in aggregate can be a big swathe of consumption.

Let me use my media consumption for the past 24 hours as an example that I hope makes a larger point. Last night, I wanted to catch up on The Daily Show, so I logged on via their iPad app, which informed me there'd been an interview with Warren Buffett and a financial journalist but which the app didn't offer. Using the Splashtop app on the iPad, I accessed my desktop computer and through the iPad watched the interview on The Daily Show website. comSscore might have registered that as a computer view, but it was really on mobile. I use Splashtop much the same way on Kindle Fire which is about half the size of iPad and yet another experience. I have even set up my bedroom's VCR (yep, I still have one) to tape future episodes of the show and will now be able to (untracked) watch at my leisure and fast forward through parts that may not interest me, including any commercials. I'll also be able to grab that cassette and play it at my mom's house (with less hassle than if I created an mp4 from my Mac's DVR), or trying to deal with DRM issues if I bought it.

While I'm probably an outlier in my habits, I'm normal in the broader view. If something is unavailable one way (for example, via an app), people will find another (as Wilson demonstrated during the blackout of Knick games by Time Warner cable when he went to an illicit German site). People will find ways to sling media, too. What may be registered as a view on one screen is actually consumption on another, perhaps time-shifted. Much is untrackable, not to mention various logons, cookie deletion and tracking blockers, and so on. Measuring the aggregate helps but it misses a significant part of the picture in our multi-device, multi-habit tech-laden world. New forms of ad targeting (such as explored in that white paper), demand much finer detail.

This is not to in any way call into doubt the utility of what Comscore, Nielsen and some others are trying to do in trying to measure across media and platforms. It is, though, important to understand the limits and that the experience of how media are consumed can be quite different from the ways in which they are measured. There are challenges here which also spell opportunity for entrepreneurs.

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The top of Fred's original post:

A VC: Media Metrix Multi PlatformcomScore is announcing something today that I am quite excited about. It is called Media Metrix Multi Platform and comScore describes it this way in their announcement: "Media Metrix Multi Platform offers unduplicated accounting of audience size and demographics that reflects today’s multi-platform digital media environment, which includes websites, apps and video content accessed from multiple devices."
This "multi platform" environment is the reality of most online properties today. We access them on the desktop/web, the mobile web, and on iOS and Android apps (and some other ways as well). But it has been impossible to get an aggregated and, importantly, an unduplicated view of the audience across all of these devices.

Magazines: Can We Include Digital? Please?

David Carey of Hearst
All the coverage of the decline in newsstand magazine sales so far this year misses the full picture. We need to see what else the mags are doing, where other revenues are coming from. We need to include not just digital replica and app editions --  the only parts of digital publishing counted by auditors and are a small part of the pie -- but also everything from YouTube channels to events and services (as Hearst chief David Carey likes to tout), all the "touchpoints" of the brand. And how about data sales, and e-commerce  and whatever else?

While magazines still consider their print editions as flagships, most understand that they are really media brands of which print is only a part.

We also need to see circulation figures. For most magazines, newsstand sales -- as opposed to the more even and booked "pre-revenue" of subscriptions  -- were always an indicator, but only a sliver. "Staffers at magazines love to say that newsstand sales aren’t an accurate way to portray a title’s health anymore," says Fishbowl NY (which I once managed),  "but these numbers have got to raise some concern." Concern. OK. It's true that all the rest suffers if the flagship is, well, flagging; fewer people picking it up, fewer chances to drive people to all those other goodies. Still, Carey says, at Hearst print accounts for 40% of  revenues, while digital accounts for 40% and services 20%.

Today's headlines give an incomplete portrayal.

Twitter Owns its API and Can Change the Rules

The beauty of spreading what you have via an API  is that others can use that API to build stuff that feeds into and spreads your service. They get value from your data and functionality, you get the benefit of that functionality and can then incorporate it into your main platform, identify great talent, learn new ways off using your service you may not have considered, get more data about usage and patterns and on and on.

And: You own it, the API. You can set the rules, change the rules, decide some level of data is no longer available, or only under certain constraints, or for a fee.

For a company using the API to build on, it can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand you get all that data, get to incorporate it, enhance your platform, do more stuff. Many media companies have built upon Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and more to let them handle everything from commenting logons to location-based services. That's great -- especially when they carry the freight. But as we saw with Twitter's decision to disallow LinkedIn to use Twitter data in its stream, there are risks that what you're using may not always be available. There, too, can be risks that the one providing the API learns more about your users and patterns than you have and use it in the future in ways that may not benefit your users, something I wrote about previously.

What I would recommend for media, then, is by all means, use the APIs and functionality of a Twitter, Foursquare, etc. But be aware that they are gathering data on your users that you may not have access to, and also that they plug may someday be pulled. Be ready for that eventuality, and know how you think you'll handle it in the event that one day you find yourself, like LinkedIn, unable to use what you had previously in the same way. For LinkedIn, it's surely not a fatal blow, perhaps a scratch or scuff -- though we don't know how much they were getting out of the Twitter feeds, and how much they'll lose if people end up having to go to or Twitter-centric apps where before they just lived within LinkedIn.

For you, if you're a media company, how much will you lose if, say, you can no longer let people log onto your comments via Twitter or Facebook can't share your feeds on those services as easily or at no cost. If you have to pay, what's it worth? What is your ROI of social media? How much is each one of your clickthroughs, mentions, pass-alongs worth?

For Twitter, they are balancing their desire to grow and be omnipresent vs. their perception of what their brand is as it becomes more prevalent, and they exercise more control and have more literal and figurative bandwidth to handle more and more themselves, rather than rely on the good graces of an open developer community.

Here's a bit from CBS' coverage of Twitter's cutoff of its feed to LinkedIn, and more than a flinch of developer anger:

The new requirements are meant to encourage developers to build apps on Twitter's website. The company said it would "more thoroughly enforce" its Developer Rules of the Road. Twitter wants to ensure its branding is consistent across the Internet, whether tweets are read on the site or a third-party client.
While the company is cracking down on inconsistency, developers are struggling with the narrowing constraints of integrating with Twitter.
In a March 2011 note to developers, Twitter platform team member, Ryan Sarver said, "developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no." 
The challenges of building a program that doesn't mimic Twitter while ensuring consistency across all platforms has raised the ire of developers - some feeling jilted by the company. Their concern is that they have invested time and resources into developing apps for Twitter, only to have the company change the rules of the game. 

The Morning Nora Ephron Captivated Me

At an event run by Syracuse University's Newhouse school of communications, Nora Ephron, who passed away last night at the age of 71, sat on stage with New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, actress Anne Hathaway, and an executive from, I believe, Sony pictures.

Auletta is eloquent and charming, Hathaway is wonderful and stunning, but it was Ephron whose charisma, charm, humor and biting but not cruel wit held the room. Every time she opened her mouth to speak, I found myself leaning forward, smiling, nodding, completely engaged by how she could be so frank and poetic at once. One line that sticks in my head: referring to the absurdity she found in the lavish lifestyles of Hollywood execs, she talked of them living "like pashas." (And this from someone who earned much of her living through the graces of those execs.)

The The New Yorker (with which I have no affiliation -- though I am a friendly acquaintance of Auletta) has the audio here.

Digital Media Management

I've teach graduate students a course in Digital Media Management at the Baruch Zicklin School of Business (City University of New York). I constructed the course, continually refine it, and am proud of the ways I've revised my presentation of the "Content Value Chain" and its aspects.

I've also, always, got plenty to learn. Which is one reason I'm excited to be taking the IESE (a European biz school) course on Advanced Digital Media Management for the next three days.

An Open Letter to Michael Kinsley (from 2002)

It's a bit surprising to me that people are still, two decades  since the popularization of the Web, grappling with and fretting over how and whether to do "long-form" journalism in digital media. I put "long-form" in quotes, because each medium has its own systems and constraints, and long-form doesn't necessarily mean text. A documentary is long-form journalism for broadcast media. And, perhaps, we need to rethink the idea of "long-form" for the Web. Which brings me to a piece I wrote on in 2002 on the ideas of long-form, answering journalist and editor Michael Kinsley. (And my apologies for older links that don't work. If you find archived versions, please let me know.)

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By Dorian Benkoil 
Published Aug. 21, 2002 5:20 pm

Dear Michael,
I’ve heard you in a couple of places recently, expounding on what you’ve learned about doing journalism on the Web after many years as top editor at Slate.

Generally you were right on, but I sensed one important blind spot: You spoke as if the Web were print. For example, you repeatedly lamented how hard it is to sustain the sort of long-form journalism a print magazine might do.

“Publishing long New Yorker/Atlantic-type pieces,” you said in one interview for NPR’s “On the Media,” may well be “a type of journalism that is not suitable to the Web.”

But that’s like a filmmaker bemoaning the ways he has to condense a novel to squeeze it into a feature film, or a TV journalist complaining that the words of his evening news broadcast wouldn’t fill the front page of a broadsheet newspaper.

The Web, like TV and film, is a different medium than print — one that can convey just as much, and perhaps more. And I would argue that in doing so, Web journalists must present their pieces differently than when writing for, sayThe New York Times Magazine, of which you also spoke well.

Horizontal, Not Vertical
I think of the Web as a “horizontal” rather than “vertical” medium. People reading on a computer tend to get impatient, to skip from one thing to another. Rather than scroll down — vertically — they’ll jump (or “click”) to a “new” page — horizontally — even when that new page is a continuation or tangent of what they’re already consuming.

Web-based publications, from your competitor to The New York Times Magazine, capitalize on this tendency in the simplest of ways: breaking up articles onto multiple, cross-linked pages.

More sophisticated methods of engaging Web users include one you mentioned: having a journalist keep a kind of professional journal that elicits the story as it’s reported, in small chunks day-by-day, or your nifty trick of using the “voice of e-mail.”

Even more sophisticated, I would argue, is using more of the medium’s potential by not confining yourself to print.

Take, for example, a hypothetical New York Times Magazine piece on the Middle East. Let’s make it 5,000 words. Then let’s adapt it for the Web, giving users a fun and enjoyable ride rather than a slog through page after page of screen-based text:
  • What’s the main point, the “nut” of the story? Can we convey it, with a reasonable amount of color and depth, but without digressions or asides, in, say, 1,200 words — which means, maybe two “Page Down” clicks, “vertically”?
  • Can we take a digression from the piece and make it a 400-word sidebar on a different page?
  • How about some visual elements described in an attached photo slideshow, with clever and creative captions that tell more of the story, as The New York Times did last week here with a fun walk-through illustrating its piece on virtual TV news?
  • Maybe a bit of audio of some interview subjects, conveying not only the words they spoke, but also the added context of their tone of voice and, for video, facial expressions, as MSNBC consistently does with its audio-visual presentations, as here on its coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks and the war on terror.
  • How about an interactive graphic giving insight into the geography, history or other background behind the piece so someone can flesh out their understanding, as, my employer, does consistently, such as on this primer on the Middle East. [[NOTE: is blocking access to this story as of April 12, 2012.]]
It is, to be sure, a lot of work, but once done gives a rich Web-centric presentation of the same material that might total more words, be enjoyable to enter at any of numerous points, and convey as much information and more emotion than the Times Magazine piece.

Even such print-oriented sites as The International Herald Tribune‘s, with its “horizontal” presentation of individual stories and a Web-based “clippings” file, are trying to present their material in a way that’s attractive to Web-based readers.

I’d be the first to acknowledge that the above techniques are not perfected. This is, after all, an evolving medium whose technology changes many times a year. But it’s just not right to say that it’s not possible to do long-form journalism on the Web.

Knowing the Numbers
Michael, you also spoke of the double-edged sword of knowing the numbers, of how Web technology allows you to know exactly how many people look at every piece for exactly how long. You noted how that can tend to denigrate the less-viewed material.

Yet, in print, editors don’t know how many people actually read their articles, or who, or how far into them they go. How many times have you stopped reading a piece in the middle and turned the page? At least on the Web, you can presume someone who’s accessed a story has a certain level of interest, and perhaps is more engaged, than the casual magazine or newspaper reader.

I have learned over five years of working in Web journalism — after many more years in magazines, radio, TV, film, a wire service and more — that each medium has its tedium, but each can also borrow from the others while playing to its greatest strengths.

As I said, you were mainly spot-on in talking of everything from the wonderful ways to play with the medium to the excitement of building it from scratch and how the wealth of figures generated by users’ “clicks” can ultimately be misleading. Thank you, too, for many wonderful stories and revelations in Slate and for sharing your observations.

And, if you’ve read this far down, thanks for reading mine.
– Dorian Benkoil

Dorian Benkoil is a managing producer at He previously spent about a decade at The Associated Press and Newsweek. This piece reflects his personal views, not those of his employer.

Collaborating in Person to Support the Virtual

Collaboration has been growing in journalism (and media in general), and I'll be attending two collaboration events in the Bay Area. One, Collab/Space, is part of the launch of Collaboration Central on our client PBS MediaShift, and is happening at U.C. Berkeley's Bowman Center. (The hashtag: #collabspace ?) Luminaries such as investigative journalist and Berkeley educator Lowell Bergman, U of Arizona's Dan Gillmor and MediaShift's Mark Glaser will also be there.

The other event, TechRaking (#techraking) is at Google's headquarters on Thursday, in Mountain View, CA. It's being run in part by founder David Cohn and will apparently focus more on the technology that has facilitated so much of the collaborative work that is possible today.

Mashable to CNN For $200 Million? Really?

I can't find any sourcing, even on supposedly "reliable" sources like Reuters, for the $200 million figure that CNN is supposedly considering paying for Mashable. While the idea of the acquisition is plausible, I find the figure hard to believe. Simply put, with 40-50 employees, and about 50,000,000 pageviews per month, the math doesn't work, unless there's some magic I'm missing that CNN greatly values.

When AOL agreed to pay a reported $350 million for The Huffington Post last winter, it got a general interest news powerhouse, with multiple properties covering everything from lifestyle to business, and, of course, politics; no small matter as we move into a tough election year, with politicians ready to spend millions on political ads. And it also got Arianna Huffington, whose PR value is worth a considerable amount, and HuffPo's ability to drive traffic to tons of AOL properties across a wide spectrum. As of last October, they had a BILLION monthly pageviews, 20 times more than Mashable.

Mashable is a powerhouse in the tech and social media worlds, and they've got a brilliant strategy of spreading their material, generating pageviews and engagement, are masters at SEO, especially through their many evergreen "best of" or lists of 5-10 things you need for whatever digital/social/tech you're involved in. They've got a strong hold on the niche, which is a large niche, but a niche, nevertheless. Can they really be worth well more than half of HuffPo?

I've done some quick calculating (the spreadsheet is here), and even if Mashable, with all their revenue streams, has a very healthy $20 average revenue per 1,000 pages served, and they get a 10x multiple on that, that's still "only" a $120 million acquisition price. If we say 50 employees at $200,000 revenue per employee -- a high number for a media venture -- the numbers are even less.

I may be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. I made the mistake once of thinking that a highly nimble editorial operation would be valued at well more than its traffic justified, and learned last month when PaidContent was acquired from the Guardian group by GigaOm that the actual price Guardian originally paid was a fraction of the rumored $30 million at the time.

Either way, congrats to Mashable chief Pete Cashmore for brilliantly executing an editorial strategy that perfectly fits the times. If his site is acquired, he stands to make a justified killing. This time, though, I'm erring on the side of caution.

Remembering Anthony Shadid

After the death of my friend and New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, I put up a Facebook page where I, and a few others, remembered him. If you have remembrances of Anthony, or a comment on how he or his work affected you or got your notice, you're welcome to contribute.

Amazon Earnings Up, But Revenue Down

Everyone expected lower profits (aka earnings) from Amazon. But the lower revenues seem a surprise. Still I would not count them out. Far from it.

BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said the company "didn't really give a good answer" as to why its revenue fell short of expectations. And while its earnings were stronger than expected, he said the company has been "more revenue driven than earnings driven." That explains why investors focused on the company's sales growth. With a stock valued as high as Amazon's, they are looking for any sign of a slowdown as an excuse to sell.

Google's Had Privacy Issue for 5 Years

With all the hubbub about Google's new privacy policy and how they're tying data together from their various sources to give better search results and ads, I thought I'd take a look at a piece I wrote more than five years ago on the topic of "Google's Looming Threat" -- which was privacy. Even then, in June of 2007, I wrote, Google faced a "burgeoning challenge".

Is there any other company that knows more about individuals - their preferences, their desires, their habits, their friends, their purchases, even the documents on their computers? And is there anything preventing Google from using that information?.... Now imagine aggregating all that information on an individual, then cross-referencing it with any searches the person has done, any books they've looked at online in Google Books, any videos they've looked at in or uploaded to Google's YouTube, or any documents Google Desktop has found on their hard drive. For Google's engineers, it would be a technically trivial exercise.
You can read the whole piece on Google's Looming Privacy Threat at the site of my company, Teeming Media.

ROI of Social Media #smwknd

Thanks to the many supportive people who attended and gave great questions, feedback and praise for my "ROI of Social Media" talk at Columbia University's "Social Media Weekend." You can find the presentation slides here, and a "Storify" of many of the Tweets below.

Social Media Weekend: ROI and @FredWilson

I'll will be introducing VC extraodinaire Fred Wilson, for his keynote address on Friday evening to kick off Social Media Weekend in NY, and presenting on “The ROI of Social Media” on Saturday. It's great to have one of the highest-profile investors around talk at the Columbia J-school about what makes it all work. (Sorry, no seats available for tonight, though there are spots for the rest of the festivities.)

Saturday will be on how can you measure whether what you’re doing to be part of the Twitter, Facebook and every other “conversation” is actually worth what it’s costing you.