Nielsen Q4: ‘Total Audience’ Is Where It’s At

NielsenMeasurement mogul Nielsen is bullish on its evolving digital measurement capabilities – but panels aren’t going anywhere, said CEO Mitch Barns.

“The future of measurement is not about choosing between panels and big data,” Barns told investors on an earnings call Thursday. “It’s about combining high-quality panels with granular data sets for the best of both worlds.”

Revenue was up a smidge for Nielsen in the fourth quarter of 2014, with a modest 1.4% uptick to $1.6 billion. Revenues for the year grew 12.4% to $6.3 billion.

Barns attributed the growth to “progress on key initiatives,” including Nielsen’s mobile measurement tool, Online Campaign Ratings (OCR), introduced in July, and a partnership with Adobe on Digital Content Ratings (DCR), announced in October.

As Nielsen enters 2015, it will focus on what Barns referred to as “total audience,” aka the company’s push to quantify audiences and campaigns across screens. It’s a necessary move considering the acceleration of media fragmentation.

“Consumers have more choice and control that ever,” Barns said. “Our response is to focus on the consumers. That’s what we do. We follow the consumer and measure them no matter how, where, when or what.”

That’s been Nielsen’s stance for the last year, although some publishers previously expressed their doubts about Nielsen’s ability to execute on that promise.

“Nielsen talked about measuring total television viewing, but the technologies that must be employed and permissions that must be granted to [do this] are difficult,” Beth Rockwood, SVP of market resources and ad sales research at Discovery Communications, said at the TV of Tomorrow conference in December. “We need help with that, and right now Nielsen can’t help us with that.”

At the time, Rockwood pointed to over-the-top services – Amazon, Netflix, Roku and the like – as a major measurement challenge.

According to Barns, Nielsen has been making a concerted effort to meet that need by adding subscription-based and ad-supported video on demand to its measurement coverage.

It’s on the road map, at least.

“We’ll roll out those capabilities later this year and we’re well on track on that front,” Barns said. “We’re capturing these fast-growing slices of over-the-top viewing with our efforts to provide a complete picture of total audience.”

Nielsen ratings are now fully integrated into Google’s DoubleClick, although the deal isn’t exclusive. Google is also integrated with comScore’s vCE. In addition, Google now offers OCR guarantees for media buys on YouTube.

In terms of mobile measurement and OCR, adoption is proceeding apace, but there’s still room to grow as the marketplace itself continues to evolve. Barns noted that clients have a bunch of steps to go through before they’re even ready to start measuring mobile.

“They need to decide on a business model. Do they want to include mobile viewing in their current TV ratings or do they want to measure it and monetize it as digital viewing?” Barns said. “Then their engineers have to embed software codes into the apps.”

That all takes time, said Barns, pointing to the fact that OCR has already been adopted in eight large non-US markets, including five in Southeast Asia, with plans to roll out to additional seven in 2015.

Speaking of the rest of the world, Nielsen is planning an April launch of OCR in China. Japan is on deck for Q2. “Emerging markets are continuing to scale,” said Nielsen CFO Jamere Jackson.

Barns’ hackles went up ever so slightly when an investor asked about how Nielsen compares to the competition in global markets.

During its own Q4 earnings call on Thursday morning, comScore announced a strategic global deal with Kantar Media, WPP’s data investment division. If the deal goes through, WPP would get a 20% stake in comScore, and comScore will gain access to certain of Kantar’s global resources, including online audience measurement assets in Europe.

“We are the one who is willing to go into many of these markets that are incredibly difficult to measure, where the retail environment is dominated by the traditional trade. It takes an incredible amount of execution ability and discipline to measure these markets, which is exactly what consumer packaged goods companies need,” Barns said. “In many respects … the competition is playing catch-up. We’re already in a lot of these markets, the most important ones, both with measurement capabilities on the television side and on the digital side.”

Barns signed off with this sentiment: “You can’t just play in any one part of the market anymore. Some of the other players have realized that they’re missing important parts of the total picture.”

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