When major advertisers and agencies are looking to buy media online,
they typically turn to companies like comScore and Nielsen for audience
measurement data. That makes these companies extremely important to
publishers.

Unfortunately, smaller publishers and startups in most cases simply
can’t afford to jump in bed with the comScores and Nielsens of the
world. That has created opportunity for upstart competitors like
Quantcast and Compete, which are aiming to away at their positions in
the market.

In what appears to be a response to this, comScore has decided to cozy up with small publishers. Yesterday, it made two announcements at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in New York City.

First, comScore announced that publishers will be able to participate in the company’s Media Metrix 360 measurement program at no cost. Prior to this announcement, the cost associated with Media Metrix 360 tagging was $5,000, prompting some, like Jason Calacanis, to accuse comScore of “extortion.”

Second, comScore announced a new program called Start-up, Step-up. Designed with startups in mind, Start-Up, Step-Up will give publishers with under 1m unique monthly visitors free access to certain portions of the  comScore Dashboard. Publishers with 1m to 2m monthly uniques will be able to purchase the same level of access for $799 per month. Both groups will also be able to purchase a full Media Metrix subscription at a 50% discount.

According to comScore’s Linda Abraham, “We believe that opening our platform and providing additional benefits to the start-up community will go a long way towards helping those in our industry fully demonstrate their value to advertisers and investors.

Of course, comScore isn’t courting small publishers and startups out of the goodness of its heart. Free and low-cost audience measurement solutions are particularly popular with publishers who may be small today but large tomorrow. Instead of being forced to sell publishers on comScore’s offerings after they’ve hit the big time, comScore has a better chance at developing future clients if it starts ‘working on them’ early on through the free tagging and reduced pricing.

A presence at the lower end of the market also offers another advantage to comScore: access to valuable audience data. Measuring audiences accurately, especially in the ‘long tail’, is virtually impossible if smaller publishers don’t add comScore tags. Yet as publishers increasingly buy audiences and not content/brands, it seems that large measurement firms like comScore could be left behind if their data is only truly meaningful at the upper end of the market.

Given these things, comScore’s move seems sensible given the competitive environment, and I’m sure more than a few publishers will be taking it up on its offer. That said, it’s not entirely clear to me that smaller publishers should rush to add comScore tags to their sites without first establishing why they’re doing so.

The biggest selling point the comScores of the world have is still the fact that major advertisers and agencies rely on their data. But as I have noted previously, small sites (especially those with under 1m uniques per month) realistically won’t find themselves on the radar for direct buys anyway. Access to comScore’s reporting may be nice, but if publishers are looking for analytics, they should thoroughly evaluate their options based on the strength on the analytics products, not client lists.