Nielsen’s eXelate Buy Is A Bet On ‘Real-Time Data’ As Programmatic TV Emerges

NielsenNielsen’s acquisition of data technology company eXelate for an estimated $200 million positions it squarely in the digital camp, a move experts agree was essential to break away from its perceived image as a purveyor of panels and diaries.

“It’s a recognition that the future is more than measurement and analysis,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of TV audience activation platform Simulmedia. “It’s providing the data that drives the transaction. They bought a demand-management platform and team that has worked for years to link data sets. Linking data sets was not a core competency of Nielsen’s.”

Rohit Kulkarni, VP of Internet equity research at RBC Capital Markets, added, “As ad buyers move from traditional to digital channels [or vice versa] they want more of a tangible read on ROI. For someone like Nielsen, who took a very survey-based approach to measurement, there was no tangible, hard evidence [on ROI] they could give to a cross section of buyers.”

Marketers are demanding multitouch attribution and more targeted data sets that go above and beyond the rating. This pressure has led many TV networks to pursue their own data-driven initiatives. In January NBCUniversal launched an audience-targeting platform, and a few weeks after that Turner Broadcasting partnered with advanced marketing analytics company MarketShare. 

Although there is no single definition of “programmatic TV,” NBCUniversal, Turner and Nielsen each illustrated the practical application of data in the television business.

“It further reinforces the shift to programmatic ad buying in traditional channels,” said Kulkarni. “People are aggregating the ammunition they need to be well positioned over the next couple of years. I think Nielsen felt they needed a horse in the [race], which reinforces the bet other companies are making on programmatic TV.”

On the surface, the eXelate buy represents a marked shift for Nielsen to programmatic, but Nielsen argues it’s always had skin in the game.

“We’ve always allowed clients to segment audiences based on buying behaviors so they can better apply media or, for publishers, more effectively represent audiences,” Andrew Feigenson, managing director for digital at Nielsen, told AdExchanger. “We’ve partnered with eXelate for a while, but this [deal] will allow us to segment audiences in real time and bring that to the programmatic space.”

Feigenson also pointed to Nielsen’s many digital partnerships with publishers and platforms like Google and Facebook, as well as data-sharing agreements with TV audience platforms like Simulmedia and WideOrbit.

Although he said it’s too early to speculate how the eXelate data set will be applied in the context of Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings product, he said the goal is to more tightly knit data sets across digital, mobile and traditional infrastructure.

Unbeknownst to some, Nielsen’s “Buy” business (retail sales data and point-of-sale measurement) grossed more dollars than the “Watch” side of the house (what you traditionally know Nielsen for – its television currency, OCR product and initiatives like social TV ratings) in 2013. “Buy” delivered $3.4 billion while “Watch” brought in $2.3 billion.

“I’ve always thought the real future potential power of Nielsen is to connect these two sides of their business – what people watch with what they buy,” Morgan said. “The future of all advertising – brand, TV, digital – is results-optimized.”

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