“Karthik” Diem?

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to connect via a high-profile friend with David Kenny, who at the time was the CEO of Nielsen. I had never personally met David; my dealings at those levels preceded David’s tenure, and he cut his teeth with executive positions on the agency side. I expressed to him my concerns about where I thought the industry was going, where the need for data transparency with context was greater than ever, particularly as those issues pertained so greatly to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes currently bringing the entertainment industry to a standstill, and how I felt that that a company with the pedigree of Nielsen’s name was ideally suited to be that savior of substance and reason. I could see the beautiful trees and landscape of the Maine woods behind the French doors that he took my Zoom call in front of and I noticed from time to time as I elevator pitched his eyes were, like mine, distracted by the majesty and beauty of his summer home’s surroundings.

I should have known at that point that he likely was already well down the road toward making the announcement that Ad Age’s prolific Jack Neff dropped yesterday morning:

Nielsen has named Karthik Rao, who headed Nielsen Audience Measurement, as CEO of the company, succeeding David Kenny, who will become executive chairman.

Rao has been CEO of Nielsen Audience Measurement, the company’s biggest and most strategically important unit, since earlier this year, following a restructuring in the wake of the company being taken private. Prior to that, he was chief operating officer under Kenny when Nielsen was a public company. Kenny had been CEO since 2018, and retained that role as Nielsen went private.

In handing the reins of the company over as Neff’s story continued , Kenny came off as courteous and respectful, just as he did to me:

Kenny said: “This is an exciting day for Nielsen and for me. I have been fortunate to lead this company through some extraordinary times in the past five years, working alongside Karthik for much of it. As I transition to my new role and my operating responsibilities come to an end, I hand over leadership to someone with extensive experience in knowing what Nielsen does best, backed by the skills and understanding to position the company for a vibrant future. He has my complete support and I wish him, and everyone at Nielsen, nothing but tremendous success.”

But as Neff further explained, perhaps Kenny was simply a bit TOO nice for a company currently run by a whole lot of overextended venture capitalists. Witness this revelation:

Kenny’s future had been the subject of industry speculation for some time. His public statements critical of some of Nielsen’s biggest clients had angered TV executives, albeit ones that were long-time Nielsen critics anyway.

According to several people familiar with the matter, leadership of Elliott Investment Management and Brookfield Business Partners, Nielsen’s private equity backers, have made overtures to various network executives directly to reach or extend long-term contracts, raising questions about Kenny’s role.

So maybe that explains why Kenny’s eyes and ears were wandering. Not to mention why he seemed to check out even more when I mentioned that there were a lot of recently empowered research talents like myself who were, ahem, between gigs that were more than willing to help him with the unions, along with anything else that might be pressing.

It’s pretty likely at that point Kenny also knew his company was about to lay off 9% of its workforce, which judging my the number of personal LinkedIn updates I’ve seen in my timeline sure seems like a public understatement. So I was actually off in how much talent is indeed ready to tackle these pressing issues, which apparently have already put Mr. Rao at odds with some of those desired clients himself:

Rao has been somewhat controversial in his own right, exchanging heated letters with Video Advertising Bureau CEO Sean Cunningham recently over the Amazon issue. But several industry executives privately have given Rao higher marks for relations with clients and his grasp of audience measurement than they give Kenny.

So you’re a fighter, Mr. Rao? Yeehah. That makes at least two of us. So now that you’re gonna saddle up, let me bring you up to speed the same way I did your predecessor:

Writers and actors WANT data. They have been duped into believing demand metrics are indicative of actual consumption and were laughed out of rooms by AMPTP members who know better. AMPTP members are apparently at least willing to provide a small number of them some sort of reporting, much the same way it is provided in some overseas territories by the likes of Netflix. They’re not necesarily resourceful enough to bring someone in on their own volition to help interpret it, let alone debate it if needed. They’re apparently willing to even license it to some extent, which would undoubtedly please your superiors.

David Kenny told me he was mulling all of that over. I suppose that’s no longer the case. Deer season is probably right around the corner.

But now, you’ve got a chance to take a shot.

Perhaps you’ll even make the kind of news that your competitors iSpot.tv and 605 made earlier this week, forging an even more potent rival. Just in case you were too busy celebrating your new gig, here’s how Robert Williams of Beet.tv covered it:

iSpot.tv acquired media-measurement company 605 to expand its customer footprint across brands, TV networks and streaming publishers. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The acquisition bolsters iSpot’s measurement solutions for video and TV advertising effectiveness, especially in business-outcome attribution, advanced audience measurement, media planning and data science managed services, the company announced.

“605 has developed an impressive technology architecture, a great approach to using big data and a suite of powerful solutions that nicely complement our own,” Sean Muller, founder and chief executive of iSpot, said in a statement. “We are excited to integrate their world-class team of engineers and data scientists in our mission to modernize measurement effectiveness and new currencies.”

iSpot is adding set-top box data from 16.6 million homes to its smart TV data footprint, expanding iSpot’s total available TV device footprint to 82.7 million. The combined data sets, which include smart-TV data from consumer electronics companies Vizio and LG, will help deliver accurate, representative measurement and new currencies to the TV marketplace.

They’ve found a lane to make a bigger impression on this industry. You clearly want to maintain yours.

You have credible streaming data. You have continued to promise more detailed and frequent iterations of it. David’s—now, YOUR underlings—have vowed to deliver it. The WGA and AMPTP are appearently going back into active negotiations next week, and not a moment too soon—just ask anyone on Drew Barrymore or Bill Maher’s staffs. Fran Drescher has been re-elected in a landslide as SAG-AFTRA prexy and shut down Van Ness Avenue yesterday with a solidarity march of support worthy of the memory of Lech Walesa. The timing of your ascension to the throne is opportunisitic.

I assume you do want to do a worthy job. I assume as a data expert, you would welcome transparency.

I wouldn’t want this little nugget from the New York Post that Neff’s narrative unearthed to more accurately define who you are, Mr Rao:

Late in 2021, there was an internal ethics probe into whether Rao improperly aided the career of a Nielsen attorney with whom he had an alleged affair, the New York Post reported, with Rao in a statement saying the probe showed he did nothing wrong and declining to comment further.

You help get Hollywood back to work, starting with a few of us newly (and, in my case, far too long) idling data geeks, and we’ll all be willing to forgive and forget.

So have at it, boo. I offer you the same promise of brain and passion that I previously offered your executive chairman. And then some, because some time has passsed and more bills are due.

Unless, heaven forbid, all those rumors that you’re just minding the store for your corporate cutthroats and hoping to unload what could become a dumpster fire of outdated, insufficient, and overpriced data on some other more forgiving team? You know, I hear Amazon’s pretty good at their own sort of data mining, and they’ve got a few bucks laying around, not to mention a strong desire to get some street cred back after your buddy Mr. Cunningham slapped them down.

See, I haven’t even had a zoom with you yet. So I’m gonna take the high road. For once.

Seize the day. Be a hero. Be a boss.

Let a few of us earn even a fraction of what you’re likely to this year.

Otherwise, I sure hope you’re practicing your aim. David Kenny’s got a head start on you this fall.

Until next time…

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