Q&A: Nielsen's CEO on Rolling With Massive Changes in 2024

From Nielsen One to the delayed sunsetting of industry currency

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The measurement industry is at an inflection point.

In 2021, measurement giant Nielsen lost its third-party accreditation from the Media Rating Council after the company admitted to undercounting audiences, which could’ve translated to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost advertising spend. This blew the doors wide open for competitors debuting alternate currencies. Since that time, companies such as iSpot and VideoAmp have snagged headlines and started new partnerships. Meanwhile, consortiums like the Joint Industry Committee (JIC), which Nielsen has declined to join, are looking to bring standards to the overall measurement marketplace.

Adding to the disruption in the industry, Nielsen—which is in the midst of rolling out its new cross-measurement solution Nielsen One—has delayed sunsetting the old standard for currency, C3 and C7. It also recently filed a lawsuit against VideoAmp for patent infringement, alleging the measurement company violated two of Nielsen’s technology patents—the ninth such lawsuit against competitors in just three years.

Despite buyers and media giants constantly talking about bringing alternative currencies to the upfront, Nielsen is still at the center of the conversation. And the company is working to regain consumer trust, achieving reinstatement from the MRC in 2023 and welcoming a new CEO, Karthik Rao, to steer the ship.

Amid so much disruption and transition, and with the upfront on the way, Rao spoke with ADWEEK to discuss the industry’s transformation, the changes at Nielsen and where measurement goes next.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

ADWEEK: We’ve previously talked to Nielsen about the rollout of Nielsen One, which is expected to be completed this year. Do you have any updates?

Karthik Rao: The biggest change in that is evolving the television currency. That is the exciting thing that’s happening in 2024. We call it the Big Data Plus panel currency, which is really taking 45 million [households], set-top boxes, smart TV data—over 70 million devices worth of data in those households—and marrying that up with the amazing panel that we have, which is a cross-media panel, and piecing that together. That is being rolled out right now.

Nielsen has delayed sunsetting C3 and C7. What does that mean for Nielsen as a company and measurement at large?

The idea was to put out individual commercial ratings in linear television measurement. We have individual commercial minutes, by the way. It’s out there right now—people use it for measurement and to study it. But we found that the marketplace was just not ready to change this entire system and plumbing to overhaul an entire currency capability.

Any updated timeline?

We’re very focused on getting our big data in national capability launched and absorbed into the industry this year. For us, that takes priority. We’ll see how, ultimately, the industry evolves to use [big data], but it’s a matter of taking it to the more granular metric. We’re not calling out a timeline on when we will say, “You have both feeds, and we’re gonna shut off one.” We want to be sure the first priority gets implemented successfully.

ADWEEK covered Nielsen’s ongoing lawsuit against VideoAmp, alleging patent infringement. What can you tell us about that situation?

We have over 3,000 patents in this company. You don’t build patents overnight; you build based on the hard work of people for decades. It’s just a matter of protecting our intellectual property. We’re very rigorous around making sure that all of the work we do is respected and the value of that is represented accurately.

Nielsen has opted not to join the JIC. Can you tell us why, and could that change in the future?

The role of the JIC, where it started and where it’s evolving, is not fully clear to me yet. There’s a couple of things that the JIC does, or attempts to do, which are super valuable. One is it really tests capabilities for what I would call operational ability, like testing the plumbing. It really provides clarity on all of these different measurement systems. That function is super valuable to anybody who’s in the game. The challenge that we’ve still not fully resolved is it’s one thing to say, “Binary? Yes or no? Does the product have something or not?” But then what about quality? How does quality get assessed, and how does the JIC intersect or interact with the MRC? [It] is not something that in the recent past has been made clear.

Could you eventually see Nielsen joining?

We’re always open to any self-convened industry body if it advances the cause of measurement currencies.

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This story first appeared in the March 12, 2024, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.