Perhaps We Need A Cannes-Do Approach?

If someone were to ask me where on Earth I’d like to wake up this morning, my list would be lengthy–bluntly, almost anywhere but where I am waking up this morning–but the top two choices would be far separated from the balance of the list.  Choice one, of course, would be the home of my best friend.  Choice two would be Cannes.

I’ve only been there once so far, but it was a memorable trip, and for far more reasons than merely the $175 tab for rice my boss allowed me to indulge in that apparently played a role in his subsequent firing (To be fair, other people’s failures to deliver content that delivered as much revenue as they did promise were all the more responsible for the conditions that led to the place being sold entirely, but we know Hollywood endings are often written, they often aren’t organic).

But those who typically go to Cannes are among the world’s elite in talent and beauty, resplendent in tuxes and LBDs that regularly update Getty Images’ collections and IMDB profiles.  More rare are the types that attended last week’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity that celebrated global advertising excellence.  For reasons due as much to attrition and the exhaustion that three years of isolation and limited travel produced, it seems that those who are the leaders in media sales and research all seemed to be in attendance, including dozens of people I still cling to the belief are friends and supporters of mine, if for no other reasoon than they are far too busy traveling to locales like this on their still-valid AMEX business cards to express anything other than that to me directly.

So devoid of any direct protest on any of those attendees’ parts, I think I’m being nuanced, equitable and balanced in my reaction to this recap of the kind of animosity and arrow-slinging that went down in the south of France, as AD AGE’s Jack Neff reported:

Paramount vowed in Cannes to not support any TV measurement currency that doesn’t get certified by the Joint Industry Committee, which could put a dent in the dominance of Nielsen should it stick with its stance against participating in the process. 

Nielsen and Paramount were strange boat fellows in Cannes, their yachts parked side by side in the harbor. But the Paramount folks didn’t lob anything over the side at Nielsen, by all reports.

It was a different story at the JIC Summit on Thursday though, where John Halley, president of advertising for Paramount, made a not-so-veiled threat to stop using Nielsen as a currency. That came after Byron Allen’s Allen Media Group announced it would replace Nielsen with VideoAmp as its primary currency.

“Paramount will support every new measurement company that receives JIC certification,” Halley said. “And we will only support those companies who receive certification. We have no intention of supporting an alternative requirements process.”

Well, I guess anyone who could afford to rent a yacht for a shoreline party is doing a lot better than I am, so far be it for me to take any actual sides in this battle.  And, indeed, I’ve already been taken to task in recent days by well-meaning people who have grave concerns that my having any opinion at all would seem to be personally self-destructive.  Since I’ve been nowhere near France or Cannes of late, unlike many others, I have little choice but to agree.  And since they are offering a much-neede lifeline, all the more reason for yours truly to try and tone down what may come off as anger.

I’m not as angry as either Halley or Allen are at Nielsen.  But then again, my bottom line isn’t being directly impacted by what they feverishly believe–and, based on data that JIC member companies provide them, can factually support–is Nielsen’s continuing inability to provide what they see as a fully accurate and representative lens on actual consumption.

Which is why, as Neff continued, I’m merely frustrated with the Nielsen I’ve worked with and fiscally supported to the tune of nearly a billion dollars of other people’s money over many decades is not seizing upon this tipping point moment in as timely a manner as so many of their current clients, led by the more outspoken men who spoke up in Cannes, would otherwise desire:

As of now, Nielsen isn’t participating in the JIC certification process, though that could still change. Karthik Rao, CEO of Nielsen Audience Measurement, said the disclosure of the extensive rubric for certification had met much of what he was looking for. And Nielsen remains in talks with OpenAP, which is administering the JIC.

So the JIC is moving quickly, and Halley used his position of influence to remind attendees how determined they are to get these balls rolling once and for all:

Despite many doubts about how quickly the JIC could develop a federated, privacy-safe clean room for Paramount, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. Discovery, Fox, Roku and more to share streaming audience data, Halley predicted it would be ready by the end of the year.

“This is real,” he said. “This is not vaporware. We’re not just talking about it. There’s a product that is going to be in market by the end of the year that is going to fundamentally transform this business.”

But some of his direct competitors and clients are less bullish:

“As for whether advertisers will make a big shift from Nielsen 25-54 to VideoAmp anything, it’s hit and miss,” said Jon Steinlauf, U.S. chief advertising sales officer of Warner Bros. Discovery, in a fireside chat at VideoAmp’s conference in Cannes on Wednesday. 

Steinlauf said he believes that the company (Nielsen) is showing an older audience and more frequency of ad viewership in the older demographics than is accurate, or than what VideoAmp data shows.

“When the economy is not working in your favor and then advertisers are seeing audiences shifting past 55,” he said, “it’s a double whammy.”

Michael Piner, executive VP of advanced advertising for IPG’s MediaHub, was more bullish, at least on new currencies.

“I think the debate is over,” Piner said. “I think we are moving to a multi-currency world. I think we’re moving from a testing phase to actually implementing beyond just small campaign-by-campaign tests to actually moving the ball and guaranteeing on an alternative currency.”

But another agency executive, who spoke on background, said clients have generally expressed little interest in alternative currency use in this upfront. The agency executive said volume is weak but that there’s a general belief many companies may be holding budgets in reserve given lingering doubts about a recession. Those budgets could make for a robust scatter market, where she said new currencies are more likely to be used.

And there’s where my frustration is centered.  When there’s concerns about money, needles don’t get moved, and change tends not to happen.  Few know that feeling more than I do.  So the opinion I will express is: the sooner that needles are indeed moved in this case, the better.

It’s clear the JIC member companies have a disdain for Nielsen based upon parochial issues, and it’s equally clear that Nielsen at least intends to try and do something about it.  It’s also clear that the need for data transparency is more dire than ever.  When writers and, it would appear, actors who typically attend Cannes yacht parties are willing to picket on issues that in large part relate to their lack of access to credible, representative data, willing to shut down production and create greater pain points for studios and platforms already faced with the challenges that their ad sales chiefs spoke so passionately about, that urgency for something to finally happen ASA-friggin-P is as white-hot as my desire to have any thoughts of consequence on it.

But because it’s the right thing to do for my parochial needs, I will, for a change, not offer anything else beyond my hope that someday very, very, very soon, there is something resembling alliance and accord in the worlds of data measurement and transparency.  I’d be a lot less frustrated, and there would be many more opportunties for that energy to be better put to use by companies who need smart, experienced people to move those needles.   I’m friendly with folks at companies on both sides of this issue.  I’m flexible.  Very flexible.

And then maybe. just maybe, I might be able to go a yacht party in Cannes next year, ideally in a less combative climate.  And I sure know who I wish I could take.

Until next time…

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