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Looking Back, Looking Forward: A Note from CEO Mitch Barns

Mitch Barns, Nielsen CEO
Mitch Barns, CEO

Recently, we shared our 2015 summary with our investors and the analysts who follow our company. I thought a broader audience might be interested in how the year looked to us, and how we are approaching 2016.

First, however, I want to make one observation that’s not typical in a note of this kind. It’s routine to write in my internal company communications about how people at Nielsen are feeling about Nielsen. But I think it’s worth saying to anyone interested in our company that 98% of our employees made themselves heard in our internal “Nielsen Voice” employee survey. They scored us above average on most attributes, against external benchmarks that included some of the best companies in the world. But it’s that 98% that matters most to me. It’s evidence that Nielsen’s 44,000 far-flung employees are extraordinarily engaged in their work and committed to our company, and that’s what our performance and our reputation ultimately flow from. If I had to choose between high participation and high scores, I’d choose higher participation every time. The good news is that they tend to go together.

Let me now move on to where I would have started without that introduction.

One of the most important things we have under way at Nielsen right now is a company-wide transformation to leverage technology to the fullest in our business. This effort began as a project led by a team. Their work had a powerful effect on our product and technology strategy, our acquisition choices and our talent strategy, but it’s no longer really just a project: Its core ideas are rapidly developing into key parts of what we think of as “Nielsen.”

Most of our business is in measurement and analytics of consumer activity in the media and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industries. On the media side, we are engaged in a wide-ranging effort to reorder all our media measurement assets and analytical tools around an enterprise marketing platform that will enable us to connect a vast array of data into the platform. The platform will then output performance data and extraordinarily precise and actionable guidance for marketers and advertisers and programmatic systems. Combined with a similar effort on the retail side of our business, this will result in the wholesale transformation of how we do business on both the “Watch” and “Buy” sides of our company.

Of course, transforming a business doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of running it day-to-day, particularly under the discipline the market expects of public companies. In this regard, 2015 was a good year. We recorded four more quarters of constant currency revenue growth, running the string to 38 consecutive quarters of growth. And we did it in the midst of rapid change in the marketplace.

On the Watch side, media continued to fragment, and consumer viewing behavior continued to change right along with it—more digital, more mobile, more on-demand. This only made our Total Audience Measurement strategy look better with each passing day. For many years, Nielsen was known as the TV audience measurement company. We’ve evolved into the Total Audience measurement company. We follow the consumer not just on live TV, but on video (as well as audio and text) wherever content is viewed or listened to. So whether it’s on desktops, laptops, mobile phones or tablets and whether it’s video-on-demand from the networks or Netflix or Hulu, we can measure it. That’s Total Audience Measurement, and we are the only company that does it. It’s live, in the market, and gaining client adoption. If you want to know more about Total Audience, read Adweek’s recent series about Total Audience’s rollout, common questions around Total Audience, the adoption of Total Audience across the industry and the role of Total Audience in advertising.

While our Watch business was building its Total Audience Measurement system in 2015, our Buy business was also busy, executing on a variety of fronts in a fast-changing market. We began from an enviable position—covering 106 countries representing over 90% of global population and serving nearly all of FMCG’s multinationals, as well as many regional and local companies. As populations continue to grow and change around the world, the need for more measurement coverage and granular data also continues to grow, creating a real opportunity for our business. It’s a big world—but someone’s got to measure it.

Last year, we made great progress with retailers, especially related to e-commerce, as well as with the analytics we leverage to help our clients improve their performance. Our Emerging Markets teams in particular turned in another strong year, led by Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Greater China.

As for highlights beyond our core business, it was a year of innovation for us. We received a record number of patents (131 in the US, 220 worldwide), ranking us among the top 300 of all companies in the U.S. for patents granted. Our Nielsen Innovate incubator near Tel Aviv is thriving, with 15 technology-based start-ups working on promising new capabilities, all with the potential to add to our portfolio in the future. Our Innovation Labs in Silicon Valley and Singapore are showing incredible creativity and resource efficiency. Our acquisitions (Innerscope and eXelate) and collaborations (Adobe, Alibaba, Catalina, Intage, Tencent and Facebook) are also adding significantly to our innovation resume.

I’m also pleased to note that our progress was recognized externally in a number of ways in 2015. Nielsen was identified by DiversityInc magazine as a “Top 50 U.S. Companies for Diversity” for the second straight year. Chief Executive Magazine recognized Nielsen in its list of “Top 40 Public Companies for Leaders.” Our technology team won an Emmy Award for their innovative work on the watermarking technology used in our audience measurement system. Our investor relations team was rated No. 1 by Wall Street analysts among 86 companies in the business, education and professional services segment.

It’s easy for an account of the year’s news to become nothing more than a list. So let me say something about the strategy that guides all our activities.

Performance management—measuring our clients’ performance and helping them improve it—is the heart of what we do and the first part of our three-part strategic framework. To do it well, we have to maintain our focus on the consumer. That’s the second part of the framework. In our Watch business in the U.S. alone, that now means measuring hundreds of channels, many available on-demand and on a range of devices. In our Buy business, it means following consumer purchasing as the retail environment continues to fragment into many new online channels. The third part of the framework is our global presence. Our near-comprehensive presence on the Buy side of our business covers over 90% of the global population. Our Watch business now operates in 45 markets around the world, representing about 80% of global advertising spend.

Of course we know it’s not all about us. We believe that a company needs to care for the markets and communities on which it relies for its business. On this year’s Nielsen Global Impact Day, more than 22,000 associates participated in 1,400 volunteer activities, with over 800 different community organizations in 90 countries in food banks, soup kitchens, schools, community centers, libraries, parks and more. Where we can, we also put our particular strengths at the service of those most in need. This year, we worked with the U.N. World Food Programme to integrate remote mobile-data collection technology into its survey tools, so it can understand local needs even when crisis conditions make traditional data collection methods difficult.

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In 2016, we’ll complete our 93rd year as a company, and along the way, there will be more change and more progress. As we continue to drive marketplace adoption of our Total Audience Measurement system, one of our watchwords will be connected. Driven by the steadily growing role of technology in our business, our products will grow more connected to one another. Our systems will grow more connected to our clients systems. And our interests will grow ever more connected to the partners we collaborate with and to the markets we serve. We’ll continue to invest in our products, technology, systems, and—most importantly—in the members of our company.

The year is already off to a fast start, and we look forward with optimism to what’s ahead.

Thanks for reading.


Mitch Barns is Nielsen’s Chief Executive Officer.