Tracking Web viewers proves tricky

Tracking Web viewers proves tricky 1Which lays claim to the bigger Internet audience: YouTube’s “Evolution of Dance” or Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance?”

Revver’s “Lonelygirl15” or CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”?

Figuring out exactly who’s watching what online is proving to be a frustrating job for measurement firms, which are racing to catch up with the recent boom in Web viewership. According to research firm eMarketer, about 107 million Americans watched Web video at least once a month in 2006.

“We’re sort of in the Middle Ages,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC Universal.
“Online video measurement is very primitive and very inaccurate.”

It’s impossible, for instance, to determine what the most popular piece of Internet video content was last week, though Nielsen easily cranks out the analogous info for traditional television.

Several factors make measuring online video consumption much more challenging. Videos are delivered in a variety of digital formats, some of which are streamed live onto a viewer’s computer, while others are downloaded to be watched later (or not). Some sites, like YouTube, chalk up a view every time a video begins playing, while others think it is important to evaluate how much of a video a user has actually watched. And the same vid may be distributed on many different sites.

“We want to see how a piece of content from David Letterman performs in all those different places,” said Steve Snyder, chief operating officer of CBS Interactive. “That includes mobile phones, where we deliver ‘Dave TV.’ “

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