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How MRC Settled on Digital Audio Standards

CEO George Ivie sets the record straight on measuring digital audio ads

Radio World recently reported on the Media Rating Council’s adoption of new digital audio measurement standards. MRC Executive Director and CEO George W. Ivie answers a few questions on how these standards came about, and why they are important.

Radio World: What were some of the driving forces that led MRC to develop new digital audio measurement standards?
George Ivie: First, the MRC has been developing standards for measuring ad impacts in digital media since the early 2000s, yet we had never created any standards for audio, so on one hand, it was about rounding out our portfolio. Second, we are about to embark on a very ambitious project for cross-media measurement — print, video and audio. These new digital audio measurement standards put one part of the foundation for that cross-media measurement in place.

RW: How do the new standards for audio measurement level the playing field between different media types?
Ivie: Part of the development of the audio standard involved creating a definition of an “audible ad impression.” This is comparable to the “viewable ad impression” we had created earlier. With the technology that is now available, we can tell whether an ad is visible in a web page, or if you need to scroll down to see it. If you can’t see the ad when the screen loads, you can’t say whether it has had an impact on a viewer.

In a similar fashion, if you are playing an audio ad, but the listener has the mute button pressed on his or her media player, then it can’t really count.The new standard stipulates that an ad will be counted only when the listener has had an opportunity to have heard it.

RW: In particular, how do the standards benefit podcasts, which have traditionally lagged in audience metrics?
Ivie: Podcasts are included in the standard, and one of the key points for them is that they need to be counted on the client side. With the technology as it stands now, that isn’t always easy. Historically, they have been counted on the server side, and that can be problematic. Just because a podcast is downloaded doesn’t mean it was listened to. And if it was, were the ads listened to? I think the new standard will encourage podcasters to reach for more accreditable measurement.

RW: What kinds of organizations have been validated through MRC’s accreditation process, and how many?
Ivie: The MRC accredits audience measurement services that are relied on by buyers and sellers in the advertising industry. In all categories, about 100 have been certified. In this new category of digital audio, just one so far. Streaming audio is a growth area, and we expect more measurement services to come onboard.

RW: What else should our readers know?
Ivie: It has taken several years to develop the digital audio standard. The work involved both the MRC staff and members of a working committee. Much of the time was devoted to creating a fair consensus between all parties. Although they had different backgrounds and agendas, there was a common desire to bring digital audio measurement into the light so that they can be accredited and trustworthy.