Nielsen CEO David Kenny says the company’s numbers still matter

Nielsen CEO David Kenny says the company’s numbers still matter

How did the simple act of counting television viewers become so controversial? David Kenny thinks he knows.

Nielsen’s CEO has been under fire for months, ever since some of his company’s biggest clients, the nation’s television networks, began complaining about how Nielsen is scheduling viewers during the coronavirus pandemic. They still complain. Nielsen faces a number of new competitors with whom the networks are striking new metering deals. But Kenny says he won’t let his maneuvering get in the way of Nielsen’s future.

“Yeah, it’s louder,” he admits.

More fanfare may follow during “The Introduction,” as US TV networks try to sell most of their commercial stock for the next programming cycle. Nielsen’s indicator of the number of people watching shows and commercials has long supported these sales talks, but in 2022, Nielsen found itself without industry accreditation, which it lost in September. And now you face the very real possibility that some of your competitors could take a piece of your business. Some networks are likely to promote the use of so-called “altcoins” on Madison Avenue. Already, a prominent media buyer, Horizon Media,

However, Kenny is betting that Nielsen will be around after the unveiling this year and next, too, even if the company’s traditional TV audience starts to fade. “People will still be interested in reach and frequency” in the future, he says, but will look for it in a more nuanced expression. “We don’t have to reach and frequency by age and gender. We can do it by income level. We can do it by geographical cuts”. He suspects that advertisers will begin to look at audience engagement over an entire day, rather than just a smaller one-day span. He says big live events will probably still have traditional ratings for some time.

“I’m pretty sure” that advertisers continue to appreciate Nielsen, he says, and if they do, their media outlets will have to consider Nielsen.

However, the level of animosity between the two sides has risen conclusively in recent months. Nielsen and the TV networks seem to work together like peanut butter and jelly. On some recent days, it seemed like a possible combination like peanut butter and mayonnaise.

Networks have always trumped Nielsen. After all, no one likes a professor who grades a semester paper or a final essay. But things seemed to hit a new bump in 2018, when CBS delayed renewing its contract with Nielsen, citing a plethora of competing measurement services and Nielsen’s slow progress in finding ways to count audiences watching video on TV. smartphones and other digital screens. All the tunes were normally heard at the breakout of the nodes between the cable distributor and the main network.

Other tensions in the Nielsen-TV relationship became visible before the start of the 2020-2021 TV season when Nielsen said it wanted to delay the rollout of a new service that would include so-called “out of home” audiences in its broader segment. television count. Inspection. The networks hoped this move would boost their ratings as it would capture viewing in hotels, bars and offices. The networks protested and Nielsen relented.

If any Nielsen executive has to understand their customers, it has to be Kenny. He once ran the company that owned the Weather Channel and helped build a digital media agency called Digitas, which he later sold to French advertising giant Publicis Groupe. So he knows the pressures on programmers as well as advertisers.

“I have a sense of urgency to move on. I think we have to keep up with the public. I think Nielsen has been a little slow,” she says, but responds by saying that networks often complain about Nielsen’s actions. they get upset when they move quickly to change the way they operate.

Networks may have to face a reckoning over their place in the new media world, he says, as their once-healthy dominance could recede. More people are switching to what he calls “unscheduled” programming, as opposed to the “scheduled” fare that has made TV networks so much money in the past. Nielsen will have to measure everything from time spent on YouTube to interest in “creator” places like Tik Tok or Twitch, and networks will likely see a decline in their share of consumer engagement. “There will be noise from people who want to keep it on scheduled TV shows,” he says, but more media executives need to understand that consumer habits are changing irreversibly. “The phrase ‘as it appears on TV’ ‘means something’ to a different generation of consumers,” adds Kenny. “Not much anymore.”

He believes that Nielsen’s long-standing relationships with advertisers and the infrastructure that already exists will keep it in the mix. “Ultimately, I think if you have the best viewership metrics, you can audit it, and people can bet on it and count on it, it will find its way to the end, so I’m willing to take a bit of noise,” he noted. Grid only to see his words circulated to the press before he could even acknowledge receiving them. He says of one of the recent messages: “I read it in diverse Even before I opened my email…this is unusual. “

He wants to disable such efforts. “What I have to be careful of is not to let it run. If I don’t let him run, he will stop.”

However, Nielsen still has critics and the networks remain at a high level of concern. “There’s a real leap forward” when it comes to measuring industry audiences, says Sean Cunningham, executive director of the VAB, an industry organization that represents network television for the advertising community and has been a frequent critic of Nielsen in recent months. He believes the momentum Nielsen’s rivals have gained in recent months is adding new competition to the mix and forcing all companies to work even harder. “We’ve gone from one to many when it comes to currency, and we’ll never go back,” he says, acknowledging that Nielsen is likely to continue to have significant influence. “We don’t support Nielsen at all here,” he adds. “We just want them to do it right.”

Kenny thinks Nielsen will. He believes the company will regain accreditation from the Media Rating Board (the Media Rating Board has said it is unlikely to consider the issue until the end of the third quarter at the earliest), and is preparing to implement a new measurement system, Nielsen One, this year. Disney, Publicis Media and Google are among the companies helping test it, and Fox recently spent his time working with Nielsen helping it monitor audiences on Tubi, the ad-supported video streaming port. Meanwhile, Nielsen is about to go private, backed by activist investor Elliott Management as well as Brookfield Asset Management, a deal that Kenney says

Elliott and Brookfield did not respond to a request for comment.

Kenny also believes that Nielsen has an advantage over startups. Nielsen measures a broader segment of consumers than some of its competitors, he says. Some startups rely more on automatic content recognition data from smart TVs, which are skewed more toward high-income white consumers with easy access to the Internet and credit cards. However, he points out, the industry is full of “advertisers who want to reach everyone. There are stores and banks that serve everyone.”

Some media companies are calling for benchmarking startups to consider the market as a whole, not just those that can rely on new technology the fastest. Donna Special, head of US advertising sales and marketing for TelevisaUnivision, the leading Spanish-language media outlet, says measurement startups “need to make sure” their data is “inclusive.” “You can’t do mass marketing if the data you’re using doesn’t represent the market.”

These are the kinds of discussions that Kenny prefers to have. He’s interested in Nielsen measuring all kinds of consumer interactions with video and entertainment, because advertisers and programmers will grapple with many new kinds of audience behavior in the years to come, including, he says, the “metaverse.” “I hope to generate excitement about it,” he says, “because I honestly think it serves the industry. People need to start making decisions based on what the public is doing, not the economics of who wins and who loses.”

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