The Value of Independent Statistics for Online Media in China

Victor Koo, CEO of Youku, recently wrote an article, Internet Measurement in China: How to Get Out of the Dark Ages, where he highlighted the major challenge for Internet companies in China: the lack of reliable metrics for performance measurement.

In the article he talks about how even some VCs in China still rely on Alexa for very basic measurement stats, when in fact, Alexa is not considered reliable.

Many American service providers do not measure audiences from Internet cafes, which as I have pointed out, are a major source of traffic from China. Since American software companies are not familiar with the audience profiles of what is now the largest national audience in the world, they do not break out Internet cafes into a separate category, which underlines how American software providers are out of touch with this very important market. (This Internet cafe trend may change as broadband becomes more available in households, but it definitely should be counted as a major separate category in any report which claims to cover the Chinese market.)

The situation is not helped by government-supported “big picture” reports by CNNIC which give too broad numbers on a national basis and support a government agenda, but do not provide any business insights. They are great grist for press releases and the politically-charged Chinese and western media, but that is about the only value they have.

What Victor Koo does not mention is that the lack of reliable independent statistics has a very real debilitating effect on the healthy growth of the Internet as a sector in China, and the revenue outlook for Internet startups. This is because independent metrics, statistics, standards and definitions are requirements for the global media business. In order for media buyers to make good media buys for their advertising clients, they need standard definitions and metrics on the quantitative side so that they can make better overall qualitative recommendations and decisions.

It’s a testament to the robustness and attraction of China’s economy that the Internet has been able to grow as fast and as far as it has without these independent numbers and stats, but it is also a tragedy that many dollars have not made it to China because of the comparative opacity of the market.

If this systemic bottleneck problem can be addressed, the volume of ad money which would go to Chinese online publishers would go up dramatically.

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