Nielsen Puts Online Guru In Charge Of Digital TV Services

Manish BhatiaIn another sign that the businesses of television and online media may be converging, Nielsen Co. has put its top online research guru in charge of developing audience data and analytics from the TV industry's burgeoning digital data stream. Manish Bhatia, a key player inside Nielsen's organization who most recently was president of global services and U.S. sales for Nielsen Online, has been named president of advanced digital services at Nielsen Co.--a new position that makes him responsible for finding ways of exploiting the data being generated by television digital set-top devices, and figuring out how to integrate it with data from Nielsen's traditional TV and online measurement services.


Bhatia also effectively replaces Jed Meyer, who had been senior vice president in charge of Nielsen DigitalPlus, but who moved to China recently to help Nielsen develop products and services in that rapidly emerging media marketplace.



Bhatia is an inspired choice to lead Nielsen's digital television initiative, because his background has one foot planted firmly in the TV and online worlds. Before leaving Nielsen to help start seminal Internet tracking and measurement services that were ultimately acquired by Nielsen to form Nielsen Online, Bhatia was a long-time Nielsen executive in its TV ratings division.

Bhatia was part of the team who created NetRatings, which was sold to Nielsen, and has since been its top executive and leading visionary behind its online measurement products, most recently creating Nielsen Online's Video Census, a hybrid product that combines Nielsen's traditional panel-based measurement techniques with direct data from Web sites to produce more accurate estimates on the consumption of online video content.

In an interview with MediaDailyNews, Bhatia said that model likely is the approach he will take with Nielsen's new digital TV data products.

"[Nielsen Online's] Video Census is a good model for television," he said, emphasizing Nielsen's long-standing position that the best way of dealing with so-called "census-level" audience data is to commingle it with a controlled panel of consumers whose attributes Nielsen can measure with a high degree of certainty. This hybrid approach has been gaining favor in the online industry, and Bhatia said it also is gaining acceptance in the TV industry in Europe and Australia. The reason, he said, is that while census-based data streams - the kind generated by TV digital set-tops, or by online Web sites and ad servers - represent a critical mass of the audience population, they are not as good as panels at identifying individual people or their media consumption behavior as panels are.

Another reason for Nielsen's position, but not one acknowledged by Bhatia or other Nielsen executives, however, may be the fact that Nielsen effectively already monopolizes the TV audience measurement marketplace with panel data that is the de facto currency of the TV advertising marketplace, and most likely would not want to risk that position by adopting new methods that other competitors could easily replicate.

A number of competitors, in fact, already are racing to market with new TV digital set-top ratings services that want to compete with Nielsen's TV ratings, including some pretty well established and highly regarded companies like TNS Media Research, a division of a global Nielsen rival Taylor Nelson Sofres, which is now owned by WPP's Kantar Group. TNS recently launched DirectView, a new TV audience measurement service derived from satellite TV provider DirecTV's 17.3 million subscriber base. DirectView's initial sample is based on digital data coming from only 100,000 of those households, but TNS executives said they plan to expand the base if they think it will generate better data, and if the marketplace demands it.

Nielsen also has a "commercialized" digital TV set-top ratings service, Nielsen DigitalPlus, that currently has one client, National Geographic Channel, receiving audience data from 330,000 households subscribing to cable TV operator Charter Communications digital cable services in Los Angeles. To date, TNS has not announced any clients for its DirectView service, but it says its advantage in entering the marketplace isn't just its access to digital set-top data, but its knowledge of how to manage, edit, and analyze the data to make it more accurate and useable for the TV and advertising industry. (Both Nielsen and TNS also compete aggressively in the advertising monitoring marketplace.)

Nielsen executives, including Bhatia, have maintained the same position - that their experience managing TV audience data for more than half a century, coupled with their ability to correlate that data with other databases, gives them a unique position in the marketplace that would be difficult to compete with. Other major players trying to crack the digital set-top ratings business include TiVo, TRA Analytics, Macrovision, and Rentrak, all of which have their own unique bragging rights as to why they have a better way of managing such data and making it more accurate and insightful for the TV and advertising markets.

Bhatia, however, said none of them can compete with Nielsen's expertise, and the multitude of data streams and databases it has to leverage.

While it has only announced its 300,000-plus household data deal with Charter - a company that is also working with many other digital set-top research companies - Bhatia said Nielsen has quietly been working closely with a broader cross-section of cable and satellite TV operators under "NDAs," or non-disclosure agreements," that may bear fruit publicly soon. More importantly, he said Nielsen can correlate the digital set-top data directly with its traditional TV ratings panels in a way other providers cannot. For one thing, he said it is easy for Nielsen to identify individual households in Charter's or other operators' subscriber base that are also in Nielsen's TV ratings panels, giving Nielsen a unique view of how the two databases compare with actual viewing behavior.

For another thing, Nielsen is rolling out a so-called "convergence panel" - households that are hooked up by Nielsen to measure both their regular TV viewing, as well as their online media usage - as a subset of its TV currency panel, which will provide further insights on what's going on between the two media.

In other words, Nielsen likely is the one company that can have it both ways: maintaining its monopoly in traditional TV audience measurement via its core TV ratings panels, and correlating and co-mingling that data with advanced analytics and measurement systems derived from the census-level data, much the way Bhatia created Nielsen Online's Video Census.

Ultimately, Bhatia said Nielsen is moving to a "three-screen" strategy, that will also correlate those data sets with Nielsen's fledgling mobile ratings service, as part of the company's so-called "follow the video" strategy.

In the meantime, he said, TV will remain the dominant player in the programming and advertising marketplaces, and in the hearts, minds and behaviors of American consumers - a least for the foreseeable future.

Coming out of the online side of the business, where insiders tend to "drink the Kool-Aid," and believe that everything is going online, Bhatia said his first task after taking on his new role was to ask Nielsen's researchers to "run some analysis for me on TV viewing patterns.

"I was surprised to see that TV viewing was up, not down, and it was up for every single viewer type," he said, adding that the TV industry's problem is not its usage or market share, but its "monetization."

"What does the Internet have that TV doesn't," he said. "It's addressability and ROI analysis. If we can bring that to television, TV will be able to find new ways of monetizing itself."

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