Note To Nielsen: Don’t Let eXelate Die On The Vine
I dream of democratized media: a converged, channel-agnostic world with granular targeting capabilities, bought programmatically and accessible to just about anyone with a credit card. I work at a leading independent DRTV agency so you might not be surprised to hear that my dream doesn’t have a ton of adherents outside of my own digital teams!
While it’s been a few weeks, I can’t get Nielsen’s $200 million acquisition of the data exchange eXelate out of my head. Has this gotten me closer to my dream of improving the integration of agencies’ traditional and digital offerings? Or is this just another “programmatic” feather in a giant company’s hat? There are echoes here of Oracle’s acquisition of BlueKai or Rocket Fuel’s acquisition of x+1, and I realize that I need to temper my enthusiasm. If you’re not familiar with eXelate, they are basically a data management platform (DMP) with the ability to manage and activate 1st and 3rd party data to allow marketers to target their audience by leveraging demo, interest, and intent. While no personally identifiable information (PII) is passed, their offering delivers pretty impressive granular accuracy down to individuals and households.
I’m thrilled at the possibilities. Nielsen’s implicit endorsement of “futuristic” data targeting and management should help sell more traditional TV advertisers on digital advertising, while generating greater data diversity that could lead to better measurement and targeting across channels. This is especially true for cross-device campaigns, and I think this pairing has the potential to offer something far greater than what either company has been able to individually bring to the table, to date. But this won’t be automatic.
My guess is that the biggest hurdle may not be of a technical nature. It is the way Nielsen has handled such acquisitions in the past. Nielsen’s reaction to a lack in its service offerings has historically spawned acquisition, as opposed to the crafting of in-house solutions that build on their core products. Not too long ago @plan was a standard typically referenced with pride when discussing online reach and composition. These days all I ever hear about is comScore – even in presentations from very traditional (TV) vendors that are showcasing their digital inventory. It remains siloed and apart from the Nielsen core, and if it has undergone any recent changes or if significant improvements have been made we would not know, because no one in the industry seems to be talking about it. 10 years ago @plan was a staple, today, my teams doesn’t use it and (most tellingly) doesn’t seem to miss it. I feel like this has happened with other products they’ve acquired: many slowly fade into oblivion under the Nielsen umbrella, never seeming to become fully integrated (or integrated at all) nor progressing much beyond where they were at the point of acquisition. I hope this won’t be the case for eXelate.
Nielsen needs to thrust itself into the digital age: sure, there are issues with cookie-based data, but in my opinion it is substantially richer and most importantly, more actionable for media buying than panel-based data at this point. They seem to recognize this too (as partly evidenced by their recent re-tooling of their Online Campaign Ratings offering). If they really push the envelope and successfully integrate the already amazing eXelate platform with other Nielsen data (beyond what is currently available from Nielsen in eXelate), the company will have the opportunity to create something that would set the benchmark for the rest of the industry. Obviously the technical obstacles are real. Low smart TV penetration somewhat limits the breadth of eXelate’s current data set, and the challenge around marrying hard data with extrapolated panel data is no small task. The prize is that solving for this would yield reach and insight far beyond Nielsen’s (potentially anyone’s) current capabilities. I sincerely hope and believe that this is the vision. Because $200 million is way too much money for a day in the press and it would be a real shame to see another great platform simply fade away.