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Webcast Metrics Releases Its First Internet Radio Ratings Report
Distributed processing allows for scalable and exact reporting of stations’ audience reach.

Ever since Arbitron shut down Measurecast in April 2004, the Internet radio industry has been without a reliable source of audience metrics. Enter Ando Media’s Webcast Metrics, which announced its first monthly ranking of radio Webcasters earlier this week.

By its very nature, Internet radio has always presented a ratings and usage report dilemma: Should they be based on typical Web metrics such as page views and unique visitors, or should they be based on traditional measurements of terrestrial radio audiences such as average quarter hours (AQH) and total listener hours (TLH)? Ando Media and its partner Net Radio Sales decided that, if Internet radio stations were to compete for broadcast ad dollars, the latter method was the obvious route.

Webcast Metrics works by installing a small application on each station’s media servers, then distributing the processing load among all of them. "It saves us the cost of maintaining an entire data center full of servers that do nothing but parse (station) log files," says Ando Media president Paul Strickland. "It makes it scalable and allows us to provide the industry with audience measurement using real data."

As of the end of the October ratings period, Webcast Metrics boasted more than 200 subscribers. Notably missing from their roster are such big names as Yahoo! Launch and MusicMatch, as well as station aggregators like Live365. Strickland says he believes some of the larger Webcasters are working with Arbitron and comScore Media Metrix to create a ratings system based on small, panel-based samples. (Arbitron and comScore did not return comment by press time.) Even if such a new system becomes available, Strickland believes that potential advertisers would rather not rely on samples. "We feel that exact measurement is something the industry needs," he says. "We think that, given a choice, an advertiser will choose to know exactly how many people heard an ad spot rather than relying on estimates."

The first monthly report from Webcast Metrics is admittedly incomplete, with top-ranked station DI.fm reporting only MP3 streams and not Windows Media statistics, and second-place Accuradio.com only reporting two weeks’ worth of figures. Strickland says that DI.com simply hadn’t had time to install Webcast Metrics’ data miner on its Windows Media servers. "All stations are reported using the same metrics and methodologies," Strickland says. Any discrepancies such as these are indicated in footnotes to the monthly reports.

Despite its association with Net Radio Sales, which claims to represent stations reaching 20% of all Internet radio listeners in any given hour, Strickland maintains that Webcast Metrics provides independent data. "To suggest that we’re skewing the data in [Net Radio Sales] affiliates’ favor...would fly in the face of our entire philosophy," he says. "Just as traditional broadcasters and their ad firms pay for the services that measure their audience, we rely on broadcasters and their advertisers to support our service. I don’t choose to believe that a business relationship automatically translates into skewed reports. I just think it means that somebody has to support the infrastructure required to provide these reports to the industry."