In Depth

MTV Seeks Visible Numbers

Measurement Firm to Gauge Users’ Engagement Online

In one of the first deals of its kind that will let a network group measure engagement with Internet video, MTV Networks has partnered with online video measurement firm Visible Measures to track specific consumer interaction with MTV’s Web video programming.

Engagement is a highly sought-after metric by advertisers. Under the multiyear agreement, MTV Networks will continue rolling out Visible Measures’ Web-video tracking technology to its 340 Web sites, including flagship Internet destinations such as MTV.com, Nick.com, ComedyCentral.com, VH1.com and Spike.com over the next few months.

The technology will allow MTV to measure how much of a video consumers watch, when they tune out and whether they fast-forward, for example.

Armed with that type of data, MTV then can fine-tune how it markets and programs its Web content to better capture viewer interest and advertising dollars, said Greg Clayman, executive VP of digital distribution and business development at MTV Networks.

“You can’t really overstate from a programming perspective how important it is for advertisers and partners to know how this is doing, if people are tuning out and what the popular sections are,” he said.

Forrester Research expects online video ad spending to hit $989 million this year, up from $471 million last year, but still a fraction of the $70 billion TV ad business. To grab more ad dollars, programmers will need to work harder to prove the Web works better.

Accountability

The Visible Measures-MTV deal could usher in more dollars to the Web if it brings more accountability to the medium. To date, it’s been hard to estimate how many of the 10 billion videos consumed online each month are watched all the way through. Visible Measures said it can provide that sort of granular data on time spent with specific videos to its programming partners.

Though MTV will use Visible Measures to obtain more detailed data on video habits, the media company will continue to rely on broad Web viewership data from Nielsen Online and Web site measurement insight from Omniture.

With Visible Measures, MTV also will be able to measure video consumption on sites to which it syndicates clips, including AOL, Fancast, MSN and Veoh. The Visible Measures data is accessible in real-time so MTV Networks can make changes on the fly, such as inserting a new thumbnail image into a video if a particular section of a video is proving the most popular. MTV will share this data with its advertisers so they know how their ads are faring.

That’s important knowledge for growing the business, said Greg Sterling, principal with Sterling Market Intelligence. “While the precise ROI metrics for online video haven’t yet fully emerged, getting more precise visibility on consumer interactions and engagement with online video is a critical step in that direction,” he said.

But to effect change in the online video ad economy, the MTV solution will need to be adopted by others, said Adam Kasper, senior VP and director of digital media at media agency MediaContacts, a division of MPG.

“The importance will be defined by how scalable the solution is and how common it becomes,” Mr. Kasper said. “The problem is that there is no consistency between sites, platforms and ad servers. This creates what I would call ‘knowledge fragmentation.’ You get people well versed in one technology and can get it done the right way, but as soon as you switch platforms on them, they are not as efficient at the process and things don’t get done right. … We are lacking consistency and are behind in adoption of standards. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”

Visible Measures CEO Brian Shin said his company has rolled out its tools to other networks, but would not name them at this point.

The MTV deal also is noteworthy because it measures the reach of videos beyond their home sites, an important data point in a syndicated video economy, said Will Richmond, analyst with VideoNuze.com. “In the hyper-viral online video world, content executives increasingly recognize their ‘total potential audience’ lives far beyond the four corners of the online real estate they actually control.”