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Analytics: Are Streams the New Hits?

Web analytics folks have been trying for years to remove the term “hits” from the analytics lexicon because it’s an inherently flaky measurement (one Web page could theoretically yield hundreds of hits). That same flakiness has unfortunately infiltrated another measurement tool: “streams,” a key metric for online video.

An off-hand mention in a New York Times article reveals cracks in the “stream” definition:

Despite all the experimentation, it is still difficult to know exactly how many viewers are watching individual TV shows and movies online. Hulu ranks its most popular content, but unlike YouTube it doesn’t show the view count for each video. Still, it is clear that millions of viewers are watching some shows online. The Season 3 premiere of “Heroes” in September was streamed 8.1 million times on Hulu and NBC.com, according to the network. (All online streams are not counted as equal, because on NBC.com each segment of an episode is counted as a stream, so a full episode could count as six streams. On Hulu, one episode equals one stream.) [Emphasis added.]

This is a problem. Most digital content models rely on advertising as a revenue stream, and ad rates are generally associated with key analytics (impressions, page views, unique users, streams, clicks, etc.). Redefining a common metric puts the entire industry in flux because advertisers rarely buy inventory on one site. Now they’ll need to monitor both their active campaigns as well as variations in campaign metrics (ie — is this a Hulu stream or an NBC stream?). The last thing digital content needs is more complexity.

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