Nielsen's New COO Explains Why Total Audience Measurement Is Taking So Long

Soon, 'everybody sees everything'

Steve Hasker says networks are seeing 10 percent to 50 percent audience lifts. Photo: Laura Barisonzi

Steve Hasker
Current gig
Global president and COO, Nielsen
Previous gig Global president, Nielsen
Age 46

Adweek: What are you tackling in the new position?
Steve Hasker: Two things. One is the translation of total audience [measurement], which is now implemented into the new state of metrics for the video industry. And the second one is the transition of our buy-side business to more of a data as a service business, from market-share data to market-share data that is linked to a set of explanatory variables.

Where do things stand with your total audience measurement rollout?
In the fourth quarter of last year, we delivered the final pieces, so that any advertisers, any agency, any publisher can now see the total audience to a piece of advertising and video content. That data is starting to flow through our clients' systems on a proprietary basis and is informing their decisions around the upfront, particularly the networks, many of whom are now seeing that data and understanding what lifts these other platforms provide to their total audience. The next step for us is to move to a syndicated product, whereby everybody sees everything. We're hopeful of being able to execute that by the end of the second quarter.

Last fall, your target for that had been the end of first quarter. What caused the delay?
I think it's the reality of working through the data with clients, getting them comfortable with the new data sets that they're seeing. That process … I don't know that we underestimated it, but we can never spend enough time with our clients analyzing that data, helping them understand it and figure out what sort of decisions it's going to lead to.

What kind of audience lifts are networks seeing from these additional platforms?
We're seeing in some cases audience lift of around 50 percent, but on average, we're seeing an audience lift of around 10 percent, and that depends on the genre, the popularity of the programming itself, the way that the media companies are distributing it and the way in which they're marketing it. But the exciting part is, there's real lift there for the media companies, and as a result, there's more lift for the media buyers in terms of the inventory available to them.

Is the hope that once the total audience data is made public it will end a lot of the complaints about Nielsen ratings?
We get three different types of criticism from clients. The first criticism is that we're not measuring something that needs to be measured. We think we have very significantly overcome those [with total audience] and that those gaps are now closed to a greater extent. The second is that our data is wrong, but it comes from the fact that we're the referee on the field, and they just don't like the results. And, by the way, it's not necessarily a bad strategy by a media client to point the finger at the referee, when there's an unexpected decline in ratings, to buy themselves some time to figure out what's going on with their audiences and their programming. And then the third type of complaint is where we've got something wrong, so literally there is a problem with the data, or the data didn't come out on time. And we have very few of those.

The first set of criticism, I think we've answered. The second, there's not much we can do other than help clients understand what it is that has happened to their ratings and explain some of the variances. It's really the third one, where there's an error of some kind in the data that we really have to focus on. And those are the ones where I hope the industry sees us mobilizing the entire Nielsen resource set to address those questions and be as responsive as we possibly can be.

You started up industry talks in the fall about coming up with new advertising metrics and potentially moving beyond C3 and C7. Do you have an update on how those talks are going?
Not a helpful one. What we're looking for is some consensus across the sellers and across the buyers and between the buyers and sellers as to what they think would be most helpful. And so those conversations are ongoing. I think they're progressing in a healthy way, but I wouldn't hazard a guess as to when they'll reach their conclusion.

Nielsen has more competition than ever before, between the comScore and Rentrak merger and other third-party companies trying to get in on the action this season. How do you stay ahead?
[Total audience] is our primary focus. What various competitors are announcing is of less interest to us. It's not to say we're ignorant to it, but we're not really focused on it. We think that we have, first and foremost, a product in the marketplace that works, that covers mobile and that delivers data every single day. And we think that no competitor is anywhere near that.

A recent New York Times story about Nielsen mentioned that some Nielsen homes still use paper diaries in local markets. You said you're in the process of phasing them out. Is there a timetable for that?
We were a little bit disappointed with that story, because we only use paper diaries to measure well less than 5 percent of TV advertising. Nobody argues in principal that we should move beyond the diaries, and we've been looking to do so since I've been around in the last five years. However, the diary tends to favor the larger media properties because respondents, when they fill out a diary, are more likely to record their significant viewing time and less likely to record their less significant viewing time. As a result, the larger networks benefit from the diaries, and that creates a resistance from those clients to move beyond the diaries. Whether we will move beyond the diaries this year or next, that's to be determined, but it's that sort of timeframe, not beyond.

Last month you reached an agreement with Snapchat to measure its ads. How important was that?
For all of the so-called negative commentary we occasionally see from our TV clients, there's a very different—and significantly positive—sentiment from the Silicon Valley providers. I think the Snapchat team has recognized that they have a very large and very valuable audience, and that allowing Nielsen to independently measure that, and represent that audience size and scale to advertisers, will only be a good thing for them.

This story first appeared in the March 21 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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