Looking Back, Moving Forward: Q&A With Janus Strategy's Howard Shimmel

Another research veteran is striking out on his own after an illustrious media career. Howard Shimmel, previously of MTV, Nielsen, AOL -- and, most recently, Turner -- has formed his own consultancy, Janus Strategy and Insights.  

Why that name? “Janus is a Roman god who looks to the future,” Shimmel explained, “but he does that so he can also keep a close eye on the past.” 

Merging the lessons of the past with strategies for the future is a good way to leverage Shimmel’s expertise to “help the market move in a better direction and help emerging data research companies become bigger and more scalable.”

Weisler: What are the biggest challenges that media companies face today?

Shimmel: Media companies are challenged with having to grow ratings, grow subscribers, fend off new competition such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple and grapple with consumer choice where the cable box is not necessarily the first choice for viewers….



So the first challenge is, how do media companies migrate to a new reality which could not be more different from the reality we spent most of our careers living in? 

Weisler: Data management is pivotal. What have you learned regarding the best practices in managing all of the available data?

Shimmel: A mistake that I think we make in the industry is that we tend to take the tools that we have always been using — Nielsen, MRI, Scarborough, Simmons, comScore — and put them in a very different bucket than the first, second and third party, digital, OTT and virtual MVPD datasets that we are now receiving. 

Companies need to think about a holistic data strategy where they are using each of those assets for its right use case and also finding ways to leverage across those assets.

When you think about it, a network has great first-party consumption data from their network apps. But all they are seeing is a very limited view of consumption. What they need the ability to do is find a way through data modeling or data appends to model linear consumption on top of the first-party data — that which makes all the applications they are looking to do with their over-the-top apps more powerful.

So there is the issue of the siloing of datasets that need to be integrated and then there is the real day-to-day issue of how to leverage all of this data to better execute strategies.

Weisler: How far away do you think we are from a cross-platform measurement solution?

Shimmel: If we think about our career arcs, there have been times when we’ve had great partnership relationships with measurement companies such as Nielsen and comScore. We’ve challenged them when they’ve needed to be challenged. 

One thing I think the media industry hasn’t done is really define what it means to have a cross-platform solution. If you think about the heart of Nielsen’s Total Audience, it really is the measurement of a program. [You can] get a complete view of a program across all of the platforms where it is available from linear TV, video on demand, digital, digital if it is through a provider like Hulu, digital on a network app. And the product scope is right to do that. 

But where Total Audience falls short is that we need a data ecosystem tool that allows us to see traditional linear spots together with digital addressable spots, to be able to plan and optimize those together, to be able to steward them together and then on the backend be able to measure their impact. 

There needs to be a forcing mechanism to get the industry to get together and decide what the system needs to do, and then inform the measurement companies. 

Weisler: What should that forcing mechanism be?

Shimmel: I think it should be the advertisers. They are the ones who are leaving ROI untapped because of the measurement challenges.  Bob Liodice at the ANA has been clear about this. If they lead, media and measurement companies have to fall in line and take their lead.

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