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Project Fusion

The quest for combined on and offline readership figures took another step forward, writes Katherine Page, with the recent NRS appointment of UKOM/Nielsen to supply the data for the testing phase of Project Fusion.

By Katherine Page

It’s becoming increasingly important to join up the dots between the measurement of on- and offline audiences. For publishers there’s also a growing demand to know how print and online fit together, and what other emerging platforms, such as mobile, will add to reach. This has become a key development objective for the National Readership Survey (NRS).

Publishers need to know how their overall on-/offline audiences are developing, and the relationship between the two. Furthermore, there is considerable scope to develop brand display advertising online – this type of advertising still accounts for just 5% of total online expenditure, according to the IAB.

As ever, coherent and trusted audience estimates will be an important tool to develop the market. At the same time, there is a frequent cry that there are already “too many numbers” in the market, particularly as those numbers don’t always tell the same story.

For the NRS, the issue is how to provide a measure of website audiences in conjunction with the ongoing print readership estimates. This will provide audience reach and profile data for publications and their websites, separately or in combination, so as to assess the net reach of any desired combination. The end objective is to provide a single integrated database for planning across print and digital platforms.

The NRS has already carried out a number of experiments in this field, but there is a limit as to what can be achieved by asking respondents to recall the websites that they have visited. Respondents remember sites that they visit frequently, but won’t remember all the sites they’ve visited, and all of the visits that they have made, particularly when they come to a site in an indirect manner.

The NRS is also very conscious that adding yet another set of figures to the market is less than desirable, even setting aside the costs of generating yet another set of online audience estimates. Hence the creation of “Project Fusion”, which aims to make best use of existing online audience data, while ensuring that the quality of the print readership estimates is ring fenced.

In essence, Project Fusion will involve fusing website audience data onto the NRS readership database. After a series of presentations from both UKOM/Nielsen and comScore, UKOM/Nielsen has been appointed to supply the data for an experimental fusion later in the year. The test will be carried out by RSMB, who are specialists in this field, and evaluated in the first quarter of 2011.

Of course, there are considerable challenges in such an exercise, not least reproducing an appropriate level of duplication between the print and online audiences for each publisher. This will be the key to the success of the project if the combined database is to be used for reach and frequency planning.

Despite the undoubted challenges, it is well worth pursing Project Fusion - all the indications are that publisher websites have considerable potential to extend audience reach.