Under New Ownership And Continued Competition, Nielsen Is Restructuring

January 6, 2023

Over the past few weeks Nielsen

has announced a sizable reorganization affecting key management positions. As a result, several longtime and well-respected personnel have been leaving the audience measurement company. The reorganization comes in the aftermath of Nielsen’s $16 billion acquisition by Elliott Management, a private equity consortium finalized last October. Under the new reorganization, Nielsen will be split into three separate divisions; audience measurement, analytics and Gracenote/ACR.

The departure of key personnel comes weeks before the delayed roll-out of Nielsen ONE its new cross-platform measurement product as well as Nielsen rival VideoAmp reaching an audience measurement agreement with Warner Bros Discovery with the 2023 upfronts just months away. In addition, the MRC accreditation suspension remains in place. Among those leaving Nielsen include key management figures as Chief Commercial Officer Peter Bradbury, Nielsen Audio Managing Director Brad Kelly and Chief Data Officer, Mainak Mazumbar.

In early December, Nielsen announced the departure of Peter Bradbury. The well-liked Bradbury had been with Nielsen for 26 years most recently as Chief Commercial Officer. Among Bradbury’s responsibilities at Nielsen was overseeing partnerships in a number of areas involving audience measurement, sports and Gracenote. In his bio, Nielsen posted his "deep industry knowledge and growth mindset have led Nielsen through transformation, including the current evolution to Nielsen ONE, the firm’s cross-media measurement solution." With the first release of Nielsen ONE data imminent, it’s an odd time for Bradbury leave.

In another surprise move Nielsen announced that long-time audio measurement executive Brad Kelly would be leaving on January 13. Kelly had joined Nielsen Audio from Arbitron. (Nielsen had acquired Arbitron in September 2013 for a reported $1.26 billion.) At his departure, Kelly was heading up Nielsen’s entire audio division, a position he held for the past six years.

In the industry Kelly has been noted as a strong supporter of audio. During his tenure he spearheaded a number of research studies highlighting the strength of audio from the impact of COVID on listening, the emergence of podcasting, as well as reports highlighting the impact of audio advertising has on selling products. Kelly was also instrumental in the roll-out of Portable People Meter (PPM) wearables to measure listening and introduced continuous audio measurement in the smaller “diary only” metros.

His departure resulted in a number of tributes on his LinkedIn page including Procter & Gamble’s
John Fix who posted, “I’ve said it before — Brad Kelly was solely responsible for half-a-billion dollars of U.S. radio in past years.” Ironically, earlier this year Kelly had posted on his LinkedIn page that he had been awarded the prestigious Arthur C. Nielsen Award for 2022.

Mainak Mazumdar had first joined Nielsen in 2005 before leaving in 2012. Mazumdar rejoined in 2016 as Nielsen’s Chief Data and Research Officer. Among his responsibilities was overseeing the building out of Nielsen ONE, its cross-platform measurement initiative. A well-respected research executive, Mazumdar had been instrumental in assuring the industry of the veracity of Nielsen ONE. Hence, his departure has raised eyebrows about the status of Nielsen ONE. As an industry executive uttered about Mazumdar’s departure so close to the release date, "Is like cutting the starting quarterback on the eve of the big game."

Other C-level executives reportedly leaving Nielsen include Chief Product Officer Eric Bosco, Chief Human Resources Officer Laurie Lovett, Chief Growth Officer Sean Cohen and Chief Financial Officer Linda Zukauckas, who joined Nielsen last April.

In the wake of these departures, Nielsen announced several promotions and hires. According to Radio & TV Business Report, Karthik Rao, who had been Chief Operating Officer will become CEO of Nielsen Audience Measurement, reporting to CEO David Kenny (who retains his position).

Pete Doe returns to Nielsen to pick up some of Mainak Mazumdar’s duties. Doe had left Nielsen in 2015 and was most recently head of research at Microsoft’s
Xandr. Doe will report to Rao. Also, assuming part of Mazumdar’s responsibilities will be Nielsen veteran Christine Pierce as head of Global Data Solutions. Pierce will also report into Rao.

Other management changes include Tina Wilson, heading up audience outcomes products and Sujit Das Munshi running Gracenote. Both were already at Nielsen.

These departures come at a volatile time for Nielsen as they seek to retain their preeminence position with audience measurement.

In September 2021, the Media Rating Council (MRC) suspended Nielsen’s accreditation of local and national audience measurement service for undercounting viewers especially during the pandemic and lockdown. While Nielsen has been working to lift the suspension, the MRC has continued the suspension to this day with Nielsen prioritizing the development and roll-out of Nielsen ONE.

The reorganization comes at a time with the long-awaited launch of Nielsen ONE Ads scheduled for January 11. The cross-platform measurement allows for deduplicated audience measurement for ad campaigns from linear television, connected TV, mobile and desktop. The tool will be able to measure video content every second as opposed to every minute measurement currently used. During the announcement earlier this week, Nielsen’s SVP of Product Management, Kim Gilberti called second-by-second data as “impact data” to be used initially for research and planning purposes and not for negotiating ad buys.

Karthik Rao the newly anointed CEO of audience measurement said, “Audiences today control what they watch, when they watch, and how they watch it. As the media landscape becomes more varied and complicated, Nielsen is committed to working with the industry to bring clarity and simplicity to media buying and selling through Nielsen ONE.”

The timing on the availability of Nielsen ONE Ads is strategic, coming after Netflix
and Disney+ launched ad supported tiers and prior to the 2023 upfronts. Nielsen is relying on its Nielsen ONE to retain their position as the primary provider of audience measurement.

Earlier this month, Warner Bros Discovery announced an agreement with Nielsen rival VideoAmp to measure the media companies as an alternative source for advertisers. The announcement comes just months before the 2023 upfront when marketers negotiate billions of dollars in long-term ad agreements.

WBD owns a number of top-rated ad supported cable networks as well as streamers HBO Max and Discovery+ which are expected to merge later this year. WDB will continue to also use Nielsen data. There are several other audience measurement providers including Comscore
and iSpot also competing with Nielsen. At this time, the audience measurement components of VideoAmp, Comscore and iSpot are also not accredited by the MRC.

Industry analysts believe Nielsen’s reorganization is a cost saving strategy from its new parent company. Going forward the cost to measure audiences will be increasing. Licensing data from smart TV’s, cable operators and other sources to measure all of the balkanized ways of watching TV that now exist are far more expensive compared to mailing TV diaries and installing meters to TV sets. Furthermore, with Nielsen now facing several creditable competitors, they may be forced to lower their fees when renewing agreements with clients. Lastly, the experienced management figures that have departed Nielsen could very well wind up at their competitors or clients.

Bill Harvey, who won an Emmy® in 2022 for the pioneering development of TV audience big data, now counts Nielsen among his many clients, so we asked Bill what he thought of these latest developments. “I’m very happy that David Kenny and Karthik Rao remain at the helm. They and the rest of the leadership team at Nielsen have been most receptive to innovation recommendations and in 2022 with MRC we created a whole new transparent and collaborative atmosphere with clients, teaching them about the intense requirements and benefits of integrating big data with area probability meter panels. It’s a new Nielsen. I’ve seen Nielsen ONE Ads and the dashboard enables a client to see the reach frequency against the target by every inter-combination of their campaigns in linear, CTV, computer and mobile. This is exactly what the World Federation of Advertisers and Association of National Advertisers said they wanted and I think Nielsen ONE will be heavily used and drive media mix sophistication to new heights.”

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