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Dangerous Data?

picture of exploding laptopA recent theme in the “premium video” marketplace are calls for creating new metrics – or hybrids of existing metrics – to fill in the perceived gaps in what currency services provide. The most high profile of these has been NBC Universal’s provision of its so-called CFlight set of advertising metrics. However a recent development may throw some cold water on CFlight and similar experiments.

Last week, a judge upheld the right of marketers to sue Facebook over errors in Facebook’s self-published audience metrics. This potential class-action suit comes on the heels of several instances of Facebook misstating its home-grown audience metrics, in some cases allegedly over a period of years. A goal of the suit is to “force Facebook to hire outside auditors and to ‘promptly correct any problems or issues detected by these auditors’.”

While Facebook’s legendary hubris no doubt contributed to this situation – and many others for which Mark Zuckerberg has apologized over the years – there is a warning for other media players as well. If this suit goes forward and is successful, it may mean that the many companies that bypass or put off accreditation for data they publish may end up liable for errors.


The presence of the Media Rating Council means there is a 50 year old established organization and framework for accrediting audience measurement methods – and if the MRC has its way in the future, advertising effectiveness methods. Some may feel the MRC is a relic of a declining “traditional” media industry, or accreditation is too slow to match the pace of today’s digital environment. But the fact is working with the MRC provides not only increased confidence in published data but cover against lawsuits such as Facebook is facing.

The MRC emerged from Congressional hearings into the television audience measurement process in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Does the industry really want to again face that sort of scrutiny – and government intrusion – if digital measures begin to face increasing questions?

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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