Internet measurement firm NetValue Hong Kong Ltd. claims it can give better audience readings through its proprietary application NetMeter but acknowledges that it can't be the most credible firm because, according to the company's president, there isn't a 'right answer' in market research.
"We don't claim to be more credible, we just claim to have the best technology at the moment, because we are the only ones (who measure Web site audience and track Internet activity) at the TCP/IP (transfer control protocol/Internet Protocol) level," said Darlene Lee, NetValue's president.
According to Lee, as users get more sophisticated with Internet usage, they spend more time using different services, such as streaming video and FTP (file transfer protocol), making NetValue's NetMeter an important tool when compiling audience data.
"There's no one else who can deliver information about what (Internet users) do on videos, chat rooms, audio streaming, instant messaging, and on file transfer protocol," Lee said. "It covers everything that goes through the wire."
Through its TCP/IP deciphering technology, NetValue is able to determine common Internet user demographics and socio-economic data, said Lee. It can also help track the level of Internet penetration, major Internet service providers, and how long a household has been connected to the Internet, officials said.
NetValue Hong Kong, which opened its headquarters in Hong Kong earlier this year, is jointly owned by Yu Ming Investments (previously known as Sun Hung Kai Investment), a Hong Kong company that holds a 49 percent stake in the company, and parent company NetValue SA in Paris.
According to officials, the company is preparing to release its first set of Asian Internet data in October, covering five markets -- Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore.
"Our technology is third-generation in terms of audience measurement," said Darlene Lee, president of NetValue. She explained that unlike first- and second-generation measurement tools, which tend to be browser-dependent, NetMeter monitors various Internet protocols to rate Web sites and provide audience analysis.
Measurements are panel-based, where individuals are selected at random from as many as 100,000 people through a survey process, said Lee. Panelists are then recruited to stay on for a year, Lee added.
According to company officials, NetMeter continuously records panelists' behavior without interference and monitors all exchanges between their PCs and the Internet.
"Our technology is actually downloaded directly online and once downloaded, it automatically activates and it measures the structure of all the behavior online," Lee said.
"In (China), we're going to have to do 100,000 survey interviews just for three cities," Lee said. "The survey establishes what the total population looks like and that becomes the basis on which we weigh all of the data that we find out."
Depending on what clients are looking for, the company is able to tailor information to suit client requirements, officials said.
"We have one standard report which is the most comprehensive and gives an overview of everything ... so you can look at it as a reference," Lee explained. "Then there are other clients who say they don't want that kind of general information; what they'd like to do is specific analysis."
NetValue said that clients have an option of doing their own analysis through online access to NetValue's database.
Protocol-based market research, Lee added, comes in handy not only for advertisers but also when companies select partners for co-branding and for acquisitions.
"We did a survey for a client in the U.S., a music site, looking to partner with two other music sites, and they were not sure whom to partner, so we looked at the data and saw that they both get about the same amount of unique visitors, about the same amount of page views," explained Lee. "But in one case, (the site) actually had a really high duplicated audience. So, it was better to partner with the site with only 10 percent duplicated audience, because it will bring in 90 percent new consumers."
Lee said that since Internet measurement is still in its infancy stage, there aren't many established players delivering data yet.
"A lot of players are waiting for everybody to get their data on the table first and look at it -- until now, nobody has had any information," Lee said.
"So it's not what type of information they need, but it's more to get a currency going so that when advertisers speak to advertising agencies, at least they can talk about the same units and similar numbers."
Lee said that market research should be taken as an indication of market forces.
"It's getting more information than you have so that you make a better decision, but it never promises to be perfect information," she said, adding that even respected ratings agencies such as ACNielsen Corp., although the de facto standard for audience measurement, may not necessarily be the most accurate.
"One of the common misconceptions about research is that research is designed to produce the right answer," said Lee. "But there is never 'the right answer' because real life is never like theory. So there is no such thing as saying something's wrong, or something's right."