October 24, 2006

ze, rocketboom, and alexa

Ze Frank probably ruffled some ducky feathers with his very funny tirade about videoblogging, which like any good satire delivered some great criticisms, but was also a bit one-sided… which is usually the best way to make a point.

There’s good reason to deflate some of the hype around Rocketboom, for everyone’s benefit, as the reality check might be disappointing for some. Recent press, and blog mentions of Andrew Baron’s many speaking appearances, can sometimes give the impression that Rocketboom is raking in $80K every week and regularly trouncing Jim Kramer’s Mad Money in daily viewers. Neither is true, or even checks with basic common sense. Enough people write it, and it’s hard to get back to the truth, which seems to be that Rocketboom gets traffic that’s at least in the millions of pageviews per month, and has run two and a half weeks of ads over the past year at rates that ranged from $8,000 to $16,000 per day.

Ze is pointing out a lack of critical thinking by business writers and bloggers who regularly report videobloggers’ numbers without verifying them, and how difficult it is, without any third party research, to understand what constitutes viewership in online video. Is it views on pages with embedded video? Is it the number of video downloads? Were those downloads completed or uncompleted? Did the visitor even press play? How does one factor in players like iTunes, Democracy Player, Tivo, where downloaded videos could (and usually do, in my case) sit on the hard drive unwatched? Not only is this a measurement problem, it’s also a cost problem for the people like Ze and Andrew who have to pay for that bandwidth (whether they pay directly, or by giving a pretty huge 50% ad sales commission to a company like Revver or Blip).

For my part, when I worked with Rocketboom, I felt they were attempting in earnest to reconcile a lot of data from different servers and partners, which included information about web downloads, iTunes downloads, Tivo subscriptions, etc., to get a handle on how many individuals seemed to be accessing the video files, though there was no technical way to know if anyone was actually watching them. Of late Andrew is saying viewership has grown steadily and views are at an all-time high. But checking that against one of the only third party tools available right now, Alexa, makes for an disingenuous comparison, at least as viewership is concerned.

Alexa measures reach and pageviews based on a sample of web users, and recently zefrank.com is exceeding rocketboom.com on both counts. But Ze’s site also has an extremely active community, with hundreds of comments on any given episode, and it seems reasonable Ze has a very high ratio of pageviews to video views on his site. Rocketboom, in turn, has many viewers who skip the website altogether to watch via the aforementioned video aggregators.

So, when Ze says he only has 30,000 views per episode, and points to his Alexaholic chart and Rocketboom’s, it isn’t necessarily as damning to Rocketboom’s public statement of 300,000 daily viewers as it may sound. But it does call a lot into question. If online video shows are really so cool, we need more data and less hype — and as long as Rocketboom keeps benefiting from the hype they’re going to just need to have a thick skin when someone takes a shot — they’re simply a big, shiny target.

On a side note, I loved “old media… dirty media.” Seems like those of us trying to put anything on the web were new media just a couple years ago — but boy, we got old fast. I’ve tried to get some of my friends to start saying “big media” instead of “old media,” if only out of deference to me, but it hasn’t taken just yet.