If you don’t know the name Marshall Cohen, but you’ve ever loved anything to come out of anything related to MTV, you should. Marshall was one of the unsung heroes of the now 40-year-old pop culture institution and was one of the many outstanding research executives who gave credence, insight and monetization to some of the wildest and most revolutionary creative gambits in music and television of an entire generation, and was without a doubt one of the coolest people to ever waltz through those halls without a mullet or nose ring.
So when Marshall recently brought this news item to light on his LinkedIn page, one that featured a headline regarding yet another stalwart veteran media research and mensch about to join the victims of media winter, this news really hurt. From Inside Radio:
A management restructuring is reportedly underway at Nielsen, which was acquired by Evergreen Coast Capital and Brookfield Business Partners, along with other equity partners for $16 billion in October.
The first official confirmation of the rumored changes comes as Chief Commercial Officer Peter Bradbury announces he is exiting the measurement giant at the end of the year. According to Broadcasting & Cable, Bradbury, who has been with Nielsen for 26 years, is one of a half-dozen senior executives who will be leaving the company.
Citing sources, B&C says Bradbury’s exit is more of a result of Nielsen’s national TV ratings service still being uncredited by the Media Rating Council.
While not confirmed, others that said to be leaving Nielsen include Chief Data and Research Officer Mainak Mazumbar, Chief Product Officer Eric Bosco, Chief Human Resources Officer Laurie Lovett, and Chief Growth Officer Sean Cohen.
Ms. Lovett was one of a handful of names I have been given in recent months by friends who still work for Nielsen as ones I should personally reach out to get on their radar. She was one of the many who never gave me the courtesy of even a reply. I now have some idea as to why at least she didn’t (though there are plenty of others who yet have a similar mulligan coming),
The Broadcasting and Cable story was authored by Jon Lafayette, a veteran reporter who I’ve personally had numerous respectful conversations with and is one of the shrewedest working journalistswhen it comes to understanding the minuitiae and specifics of media measurement, recognizes the significance and billions of dollars and thousands of lives it directly impacts and gives this beat the attention level worthy of any Silicon Valley shenanigans. Lafayette’s story added further frustrating context:
Nielsen, bought by a group of private equity investors led by Elliott Investment Management in October, is being challenged by alternative measurement providers and is in the process of replacing its current ratings system with Nielsen One. The new system will incorporate big data along with Nielsen’s viewing panels to better capture multi-platform viewing as more consumers stream programming.
Nielsen One had been slated to launch by the end of the year and is now scheduled for release on January 11, industry sources said. Customers are planning to be trained on the new system at “boot camps” starting next week. Customers are prevented from sharing information about Nielsen One by nondisclosure agreements that include nondisparagement clauses.
A key question is how the departure of senior executives will impact the rollout of Nielsen One.
Of the executives said to be leaving Nielsen, the one of most interest to industry observers is Mainak Mazumdar, the company’s chief data and research officer.
“He played an enormous part in getting Nielsen One to the marketplace and telling customers it was legitimate,” said one industry executive who heard Mazumdar was leaving Nielsen. “It’s like cutting the starting quarterback on the eve of the big game.”
Marshall, now a respected consultant and a Legend of Media Research who actually earned that honor (rather than being a client of the gentleman that produces the podcast that honors them), has been regularly updating his followers and has a strong and respected voice across multiple industries, So hell, yeah, I posted a lengthy reply that expressed my summation of this playbook: Here’s what I contributed:
So let me get this straight. Nielsen—a company that has for decades been incapable of not crumbling under its own bureaucracy and consistently drawing deserved criticism from clients for slowness and tone-deafness—one whose solution to worthy challengers was to overpay and absorb them into obsolescence (Arbitron? Gracenote/Symphony?) , is itself bought yet again at a controversially high price knowing accreditation was pending. The company keeps pushing back announcement dates for its much rumored product that will earn it. It still isn’t working well enough to earn it. But this ownership is so crippled with media winter debt they can’t buy out all the worthy competitors who are making qualitative inroads and are luring away a decent amount of business from NBCU—which happens to have its analytics run by a woman whose prior job was to put enough spin on this mess to make it appealing enough to be worthy of overpayment.
So this ownership team’s solution is to eliminate many of the few experienced brains and those with deep relationships and respect and blame THEM for the issues THEY chose to dust under the rug when they defied financial experts and drppped $16B for a brand name with legacy value but a compromised now?
Often, I’ll be privately corrected or trolled for having the nerve or audacity to post such a view, since others who regularly engage with Marshall are in far better financial shape than I am at the moment. No one has yet to correct me; indeed, a couple have acknowledged that even from this distance I’ve read these tea leaves pretty accurately.
So, since I DON”T have a non-disparagement agreement in place, I’ll follow that up with this nugget about a key figure in all of this named Paul Singer:
Paul Elliott Singer (born August 22, 1944) is an American hedge fund manager, activist investor, philanthropist, and the founder, president and co-CEO of Elliott Management. As of October 2021, his net worth is estimated at US$4.3 billion.
Fortune magazine described Singer as one of the “smartest and toughest money managers” in the hedge fund industry. A number of sources have branded him a “vulture capitalist“, largely on account of his role at EMC, which has been called a vulture fund. The Independent has described him as “a pioneer in the business of buying up sovereign bonds on the cheap, and then going after countries for unpaid debts.” In more recent times, Singer’s Elliot Management has focused on activist campaigns, in which they take an equity stake in a company and agitate using influence and voting rights to encourage change, and they have also expanded into private equity.
Singer’s philanthropic activities include financial support for LGBTQ rights. He has provided funding to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, is a strong opponent of raising taxes for the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers such as himself, and opposes aspects of the Dodd-Frank Act. Singer is active in Republican Party politics and Singer and others affiliated with Elliott Management are collectively “the top source of contributions” to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
He sounds rich, old and Republican. To his credit, his interest in LGTBQ rights is reportedly due his son Andrew’s coming out. As reported by CNN Money in 2014:
After Andrew came out as gay, “[I reacted] with fear and nervousness, I worried about the health aspects … grandfatherhood”, Singer said. But he eventually became a steadfast supporter of gay rights. In 2012 he launched the American Unity PAC, which aims to persuade fellow conservatives to support same-sex marriage. He has actively supported same-sex marriage campaigns and makes large donations to LGBT groups.
And he apparently does have some eclectic interests for a 78-year-old far-right divorcee. Wikipedia also noted:
Singer lives on New York City’s Upper West Side and has a house in Aspen, Colorado. He began studying classical piano at the age of 10, and forms part of a family band, together with “one of his sons on guitar, the other on drums”, and “his son-in-law on saxophone.” He enjoys Led Zeppelin and has played onstage with Meat Loaf.
See? He’s probably not a complete asshole.
But I’ll vehemently assure you he doesn’t have a friggin’ clue about media measurement challenges, and his signing off on letting the likes of Peter Bradbury, Mainak Mazumdar depart the company his lackeys took over with such fiscal bravado, is much more reminiscent of how this dude has operated in recent weeks. And I think we’ll all admit he could use a bit more brain power in the trenches–heck, several of those he fired were begged to return.
So, Mr. Singer, you may not know who I am, or anyone else who isn’t yet bound by a non-disparagement clause. Much like Tom Brady proved last night, older divorced men are still capable of a winning playbook. People with experience and knowhow. Hey, kind of describes you a bit, too? The Tom Brady of hedge fund management. Wanna run with that on your Tinder or Twitter (Truth Social?) profile?
You need people like me, and, if interested, Marshall, Jack Wakshlag or many other Tom Bradys of research more than ever. (Frankly, they might not be all that interested in working for you right now. ) You might even want to borrow a page from your buddy Elon and reconsider bringing back Peter and Mainak, at least until you try and sell your clients on your gameplan and timeline for a service I’m pretty sure won’t be immediately deemed as ideal once you do.
You may have billions of dollars, but you sure as hell don’t stand to make as many of them as you might prefer to on Nielsen. Bluntly, the MRC’s accredidation is the least of your worries, There are more inclusive and accurate platforms already out there that compete with you, and are alrady delivering actionable, credible, monetizable data . Your clients–led by NBCU–are actively working with your mutual customers to embrace them. Silicon Valley companies now embracing ad sales models are only in your orbit by necessity. Cutting those who actually did something positive for you isn’t gonna help those companies’ desire to throw their support behind Nielsen. You can demand their silence, but you can’t demand their support. You have to EARN it, as John Houseman urged in those old E.F. Hutton financial investment commercials. C’mon, Paulie. I know you watched them, too. You might have made your first trades based on them.
But beck, I’m a realist. The odds of Paul Singer, or for that matter whoever will replace Laurie Lovett in Nielsen HR, reacting to this is sort of up there with me being named Pope. More than enough people have ignored my numerous pleas for a meeting of consequence before, using more traditional means of outreach than this. So to those of you who think I’m a David picking a fight with a Goliath, if you were in my shoes this morning, what might you do differently?
My schedule’s wide open, Paul. Have your people call my people (that’s just me, FYI). We can maybe watch Tom Brady’s next game together. Let’s start there, perhaps? My rate card’s flexible. You might even be able to buy my silence, too. Lord knows I need the money, But, frankly, I’d just like to play a little more, just like Brady does.
Until next time…