Web publishers shouldn’t take issue with BBC double standard

The virtual corridors of Web power have been trembling recently from waves of indignation emanating from UK Web publishers. The centre of this controversy has been the recent publication by the BBC’s ABC//electronic audited Web traffic figures.

Unlike other publishers, the BBC issued two figures as part of its audit certificate. The first was the accepted “page impressions figure”. The second was what the BBC termed “electronic page impression”. The difference is technical but pertinent.

A normal page impression is counted every time someone requests and receives a page from a publisher’s Website.

But the BBC, along with a growing band of major online publishers, is also delivering “pushed” and automatically refreshed content. These services have left the BBC – and the rest of the industry – grappling with the task of how to measure them. Content pushed automatically to a user’s PC is not always viewed.

To compare the value of automatically refreshed page impressions with humanly requested pages would be unfair. And the BBC audit did clearly separate out these two categories. The fist-thumping by other Web publishers was provoked because they believe the BBC was falsely inflating its figures and adding unnecessary confusion to the market. They think push figures should not be reported at all.

I was a BBC employee at the time the audits were undertaken, so I am bound to have a coloured opinion, but I believe the indignation of other publishers is false.

If the BBC is guilty of anything, it is that it did not take the trouble to discuss its reporting problems with other publishers before its audit was published.

Apparently, the BBC has now listened to concerns and will no longer audit refresh and pushed content. I think this is a shame. The more information, the better.

In any case, even if the BBC has managed to mend fences successfully on this issue, key questions remain about existing and future audit data published by ACC//electronic and other audit bureaux.

Are the aggregate page view figures of other publishers to be taken at face value? Or are there grounds for suspecting that other Websites have been presenting figures that have included significant proportions of automated page impressions which have not, unlike the BBC’s audit, been split out for all to see?

Push media represents an opp-ortunity and condundrum for those attempting to plan and buy advertising on the Internet. But full and fair presentation of all traffic data must surely be the way forward – even if we are still grappling with the problems of how to value pushed impressions compared to those generated by traditional, human page requests.

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