Friday, June 1, 2007

What I Want to be When I grow Up

Sometime probably in the next month or so I will see my friend Mike and after we get over bashing just what a dope Giants General Manager Brian Sabean was for acquiring a lousy closer (Armando Benitez) for like $7 million dollars a year and then essentially giving him to the Florida Marlins for free (there was $5M left on his contract, the Giants ate 4.7M of the remainder). Anyway, after the, "Why hasn't Sabean been fired?" discussion Mike is probably going to hit me with this:

"OK, so let me get this straight: you were going to be a physics teacher, then you were going to be a stand-up comedian, and now you want to riff on ratings and what a poorly managed company Nielsen Media is?"

Pretty much.

Here's the draft of the Nielsen Rant…

Why Nielsen Media Needs to Change Its Tune

By Robert Seidman © June 1, 2007

On only a couple of data points I can accurately conclude within ZERO margin of error that the corporate culture at Nielsen Media is in transition and at least somewhat if not badly fractured.

Recently, I discovered some creative energy, oh, for the first time in about 10 years. I had an idea, largely looking at the way #'s (including ratings) drive the business of television. I pitched this idea to a friend of mine who was looking for a project and we agreed it would be cool to do something in the fall but wanted to use the summer to sort it all out.

In the process of this, I requested access to Nielsen Media's "press room" off their web site. I received a form letter rejection, but I responded anyway and pushed it a little. Ultimately I got the "not my call, I kicked it up the chain" message. Having heard nothing back after that and Nielsen, not having managed my timeframe expectations, I decided to take matters into my own hands and sent an e-mail basically saying if I don't hear back from you guys in a week I'm going to issue a press release with the headline, "Nielsen Media Restricts Access to its Press Room for Non-Traditional Journalists".

I received a call from Karen Gyimesi, an executive in Nielsen's corporate communication department shortly thereafter. Karen was great, most pleasant and helpful, but at one point she asked me "why are you being so combative?"

Well, from a past life I did have it drummed into me by a boss that if you want results from a corporate communications department, be combative! But that really wasn't why I had been combative. My reaction to things that are really busted is PAIN, and pain almost always gets me in a combat posture.

Why do I say things are busted at Nielsen? Well, for starters, the piece of data I actually wanted, the nightly numbers is not even available in the press room. The "Nielsen Fast Nationals" data reported at -- Nielsen wasn't even aware of how TVGasm was using its data until I brought it up, and the "Fast Nationals" is a very expensive product mostly subscribed to by the networks themselves and apparently one of Nielsen's clients for that report is sending the information to TVGasm.

Even after that had been established, Ms. Gyimesi still needed to get more comfortable about me and my friend's idea. Finally I asked what she needed to be comfortable about and it was specifically 2 things – one which made a lot of sense to me – they don't want the stores of old data, charts and reports lifted in their entirety and republished on the Web. I don't have any issue with that. But then she said, "We want to make sure you won't be a Nielsen competitor."

This was all the data I needed to determine how busted the corporate culture must be. Why? Well, on the one hand, they REALLY, REALLY care about the data. I mean REALLY CARE. Like to the point of spending a ½ hour on the phone over 2 guys with an internet connection and Microsoft Office. On the other hand, Nielsen doesn't care that much about how its data is used on the Internet or they would at least make it part of someone's job to do some kind of blog search (google, bloglines, whatever you like) on "Nielsen Ratings" to see how their data is being used on the internet at least on a weekly basis. This, they do not spend any time on.

It winds up coming out "We care, we care, we care so much…..oh that, yeah, maybe we don't care that much." It's a horribly mixed message.

I like to think not just about problem identification, but also resolution. There's a real easy fix for Nielsen and my guess is they are actually in the midst of trying to sort this out even as I type this. Or I'm an optimist and that's just wishful thinking. But I can understand how the problem grows up. For many years from the Nielsen perspective the data really was their baby. So that there is a corporate culture of "We have to protect our baby, because well, it's OUR BABY!!" I can see how that would develop.

But the world has changed and for the most part data runs free. From a corporate culture, Nielsen really should send the message down through it's company that its core value is NOT, NOT, NOT the data itself, but the measurement. The core value of the business is measurement. Data is just a byproduct.

It really is true too. I don't have to know anything about Nielsen's business to know that any real competitive threat would not be on the data side, but on the measurement side. Bottom line is that two guys with internet and Microsoft Office aren't a threat and should not even be considered one.

The interesting thing to me is this: ultimately who is Nielsen's competition for measurement? Today it seems like they don't have much, but if I were them I'd be scared silly about a world of computers and devices ALL hooked up to the internet that measure everything. The real threats are the distributors of these products. The Comcasts, the Time Warners, the DirectTVs, with their set top boxes and the Microsofts and Apples with their operating systems and portable devices. Oh, I forgot, and Google will probably write the ultimate application to scan all of the devices and operating systems in the free connected world…and measure EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD. (only half-joking here, folks).

And in this wacky, wacky world we live in, I know for a fact that if anyone at Comcast or Microsoft or Google calls up wanting access to the Nielsen Press room they're getting IMMEDIATE access no questions asked. They are probably big clients of Nielsen for one, and because of their huge distribution, they are real media conglomerates. But they are also the real competition. Not two guys with internet access and Microsoft Office.

I had a bad reaction to all of that, and while I'm sorry for being combative – that's just another in the personal flaws to attend to list –I am not sorry at all I had a bad reaction. I had a bad reaction because it's a silly way for Nielsen to operate. Executive management certainly needs to task someone to spend a couple of hours a week looking at how the Nielsen brand is used on the internet. That it's 2007 and they don't do this is indeed very disconcerting, especially given the attention they spend making sure two guys with an internet connection and Microsoft Office aren't nefarious.

Moreover, they need to send the message through every fiber of the company that "We're a measurement company, not a data company, and if somebody is going to compete with us, they are going to have to measure better. All of our focus is on being the best measurement company in the world."

They will get around to doing just that too.

Or else.

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