I am writing this column on a flight home from a very important industry conference. No, this is not going to be another one of those effete dispatches from the south of France and the Cannes Lions, filling us in on yacht parties, celebrity sightings and media exec sound-bites. I skipped Cannes this year, choosing instead to spend the past three days in Orlando at Nielsen's Consumer360 conference.
No, I didn't draw the short straw among my several colleagues who did go to Cannes. I had a choice, and here's why I chose Florida instead of France:
1. The oracles of TV media were going. I am still quite new to the TV media market. While Cannes was certainly full of TV ad and agency folks, Nielsen's conference brought together virtually all of the industry's top researchers from agencies, clients, networks and programmers: folks like CBS's David Poltrack, Turner's Jack Wakshlag and Group M's Lyle Schwartz. For someone trying to understand how data drives the TV ad market, there was no other place to be.
2. They invited me. In my online years I had not been a Nielsen customer, so I had never been invited to their annual client conference. Now, as a TV ad seller, I am and they did. As many of you know, I hate to turn down invitations to conferences.
3. Facebook's measurement team was going. The folks that manage Facebook's audience and ad data were going to be there. If the data team for the world's hottest media property was going to be there, how could I not be, too?
4. Wanted to see if the "new" Nielsen was just talk. There's been a lot of talk that the new management at Nielsen is reshaping the company. I wanted to see it for myself. After hearing CEO David Calhoun talk about his "demand-chain" market vision and media president Steve Hasker talk about online campaign ratings and the company's efforts to move past sex/age demographic measurement with their CBS/Catalina partnership, I sense a new Nielsen is emerging.
5. Good place to contemplate "DisneyWar." I have been reading a number of TV-related books lately, like "Desperate Networks, "Cable Cowboys," "Cutthroat" and "The War for Late Night," to better understand the people and personalities who built the industry. I just finished "DisneyWar," the story of Michael Eisner, and wanted to go someplace appropriate to contemplate his tumultuous reign over the Disney Empire. Unfortunately, Cannes was too far from Disneyland Paris to make a visit practical. Nielsen's Consumer360, however, was being held at the Marriott right across the highway from Disney World, and I was able to get a room on the 17th floor with balcony view of the entire park.
6. Always wanted to see Train. Nielsen may not have had all-night yacht parties for us, but they did have Train come in for a Tuesday night concert. It was pretty special, particularly when they played Led Zeppelin. (It was another sign that Nielsen is accelerating with the times. Last year's entertainment was Donna Summer.)
7. Was just in France. I was just at the eG-8 in Paris three weeks ago. I wasn't sure what my board of directors would think if I took another junket to France so soon.
8. Am lousy French speaker. I took two years of French in high school, twelve credits in college, traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland four times a year for six years, but my French is still lousy. Our head of sales, John Piccone, lived in Paris for the better part of seven years and is fluent. Language skills won out to lead our delegation.
9. Was hoping to meet a Nielsen panelist. I've always wondered what kind of people sign up to have a Nielsen box or diary in their home to record all of their TV viewing. I thought that they might bring one or two of them to the conference to show us. No such luck.
10. Wanted to hear Bob Lutz and Malcolm Gladwell beat up on bean-counters. Lutz, Gladwell and Fortune's Adam Lashinksy had a lively discussion about how overbearing corporate bean-counters have killed (or almost killed) great companies by stifling creative leadership. Gladwell's solution: "Bean-counter Island," a place where companies could exile their finance departments to keep them away from product and operations.
Jokes aside, Orlando is no Cannes, but Nielsen put on a great conference with Consumer360. I learned a lot and met a lot of great folks. What do you think? Cannes or Nielsen?