Amy Rettig, Senior Vice President of Community Engagements, Nielsen
Amy Rettig talks evolutions at Nielsen over the last 50 years, content media disruptors, and company culture.
On this episode of SPx, Amy Rettig joins hosts Joe Hamilton and Ashley Ryneska in the studio to debunk the many myths surrounding Nielsen and their evolving work in measurement and data analytics (and subsequent advertising) since the company's founding in 1923. This year, Nielsen celebrates doing business in Florida for 50 years. Nielsen lives and dies by data. They measure everything from our content consumption (both video and audio) to buying behaviors. Their clients include some of the most well-known brands in the world, like Walmart, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and Proctor and Gamble. Amy talks Nielsen's evolution, disruptors in the field, such as Facebook and Netflix, and Nielsen's unparalleled company culture.
- This year, Nielsen celebrates 50 years of doing business on the West Coast of Florida, "We’ve spent 50 years in the state of Florida starting out in Sarasota in 1968, moving to Pinellas county in 1972."
- Rettig has been held personally responsible by family members for the cancellation of their favorite TV shows. While she doesn't make those decisions, Nielsen's data does inform them, "And if not enough eyeballs are tuned in, which is what we measure – how many households are tuning in and who is watching what - then of course that show may not live to see the next season, right?"
- Much of this data - on who is watching what - comes from meters installed in people's homes. There are hundreds in the Tampa Bay Area alone. Just this year, Nielson is retiring the paper diary - one of the most archaic ways of measuring content consumption.
- Nielson also partners with companies like Spectrum, gathering data from their set top boxes with return path capabilities.
- "From 1923 until 1984 the Nielsen family, mister Nielsen senior, A.C. Nielsen senior and his son who took over, that company was family owned and operated and it was really kind of the Holy Grail of data advertising lead to a purchase."
- Nielsen operates in a two-tier system - they have a Watch & Listen, and a Buy side. The Buy side compares purchasing behavior, for example, "how much KeVita is being purchased versus how much Nestle Pure Life water."
- Many Nielsen colleagues sit on site with the companies they work with. They have a large presence in Bentonville, Arkansas with Walmart, and in Cincinnati, Ohio with Proctor & Gamble.
- Nielsen's efforts in Florida started 50 years ago with production of the media measurement business. According to Rettig, the Tampa Bay Area was the perfect place to mail the media tracking diaries that were so prevalent at that time.
- Working with data and statistics is absolutely essential for Nielsen's work. Their latest tagline, "The science behind what's next," says it all. Much of this analysis and innovation happens right here in Pinellas County.
- Rettig works within the diversity inclusion arena for Nielsen "Just to see insights on who is buying what, whether it’s an African American consumer, an Asian consumer, the LGBTQ consumer – wow, that has exploded in the past couple of years."
- Rettig is proud of Nielsen's culture, "we’ve had an external advisory council for almost 12 years now where these external advisors come in from other areas, other industries, some are media, some are advertising, some are working in diversity and inclusion themselves and they look at all of what we provide and say: this should really be a little bit different, Nielsen should increase minority supplier diversity, we should have more business with minority and women-owned business."
- Disruptive media services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are changing the game for companies like Nielsen, who have to innovate to keep up with tracking these off-grid ways of consuming content.
- One way Nielsen captures all media that a person comes in contract with? "Nielsen has a portable people meter today that identifies audio in home, consumption, out-of-home consumption and it might not be that you would go back if you forgot that portable people meter that is identifying… When I get up in the morning it might not be the top of the list."
- Nielson is constantly innovating. As such, they place second in the county, behind USF, on the number of patents they have received.
- "I got to visit out in Emeryville, California was a company that’s now a Nielsen company called Gracenote. So all the metadata that we see in our cars, in our vehicles telling us a little bit about the songs that we’re listening to, and when I’m recording a program if I’m gonna record This is Us on NBC it tells me what episode it is – and all that data is now Nielsen!"
- "e have our largest facility in the world right here in Tampa Bay. Not only do we have about 2,450 people coming to work in Oldsmar, Florida."
- Rettig's shoutouts? 1) AMIkids 2) Pinellas Education Foundation 3) Lunch Pals
"Fifty years in the making, and this has been the right spot to do business for Nielsen even though it’s evolved over those 50 years we’ve continued to grow, and it quite frankly is not only the largest number of employees, but the largest in square footage."
"From 1923 until 1984 the Nielsen family, A.C. Nielsen senior and his son who took over, that company was family owned and operated and it was really kind of the Holy Grail of data advertising lead to a purchase."
Table of Contents
(0:00 – 1:21) Introduction
(1:21 – 12:12) Debunking Perceptions about Nielsen
(12:12 – 18:12) Deep Statistics Analysis
(18:12 – 22:55) Influencing Product Creation and Strategy
(22:55 – 25:02) Focus Groups Around Broad Assumptions
(25:02 – 28:04) Observations about Consumers’ Behaviors
(28:04 – 30:03) Amazon as a Competitor
(30:03 – 34:16) Data Collection out of People’s Daily Lives
(34:16 – 38:46) Partnership with Facebook
(38:46 – 43:48) Diversity in Different Audiences
(43:48 – 49:54) Trivia Game
(49:54 – 53:04) Shout-out
(53:04– 53:44) Conclusion
Ashley: Hi, this is Ashley and I’m here with Joe…
Ashley: …the male voice of the show, as he’s been called.
Ashley: And we are happy to welcome Amy Rettig. Amy is the Senior VP of community engagements at Nielsen. And you will tell our audience a little bit about Nielsen, but it’s a household name and…
Amy: It is, we like to think that. Yeah, Ashley, we do. It’s 95 years old as we celebrate that birthday this year, 95 years.
Amy: It started in 1923. But a really exciting birthday for us in West Central Florida is that we’ve spent 50 years in the state of Florida starting out in Sarasota in 1968, moving to Pinellas county in 1972. So, 50 in Florida. And we just today met for the big banners that are going outside on the front of our building up in Oldsmar.
Ashley: And maybe debunk some perceptions about Nielsen. I think some may assume it’s Big Brother in some selected houses that used to track and record some of our behavior. Is that no longer accurate, or was it ever accurate?
Amy: It was not really ever accurate, but I like to talk about how we do what we do. And somebody might ask me 24 years ago when I started – gosh, why did you take off my favorite television show? And I like to say, ‘We didn’t but somebody did.’ And those somebodies happen to be clients of ours, so they might be a network, a television network in ABC, NBC, CDS, Fox that would have been a big client 24 years ago and still continue to be a client today.
And if not enough eyeballs are tuned in, which is what we measure – how many households are tuning in and who is watching what then of course that show may not live to see the next season, right?
And I’ll never forget, I have a lot of brothers and they always said, ‘You’re working for that company that took off FreakyLinks,’ or something that might’ve been a favorite for one season and was no longer around. Which meant that advertising dollars were not necessarily being wisely spent in the eyes of the advertiser, which is why we’re in business. We are the advertising currency for buying and selling that advertising time.
So, big thing to point out, especially after a 2018 Super Bowl where you saw advertising content right at about five million dollars per ad. So it is important to us to be able to identify who is watching what and
we do that with meters that are installed in people’s homes and we have hundreds of those meters right here in the Tampa Bay area and that number continues to grow with how we can identify who is watching what.
But the meters only identify the content that you are consuming. And today that is really what it’s all about, content – it’s not necessarily television programming. Because my 15-year-old is certainly not watching TV like you or I did when we may have been consuming that content back in the day. Really it was just changing the channel, right? I date myself when I do my in-the-air-knob-change, don’t I, Joe? It’s kind of old school.
Joe: Yeah. You are turning a fake knob right now.
Amy: Right. And maybe I should just use a fake remote.
Joe: Just put two fingers on your temple and change it with your mind.
That would be more accurate today than how it has been for the many years that we’ve been identifying who is watching what. So we’ve been doing that in our business since 1950 and so it’s evolved. And for 60 years we’ve been using paper diaries, but in the year 2018 we will finally be retiring that favorite diary.
Joe: Really? So you’re still using…?
Amy: In smaller markets, smaller and mid-sized markets across the United States. Actually there’s 140 of our 210 what we call designated market areas that had still been and still continue –through
the month of May, we’ll continue to use diaries. And then after that the retirement party will begin and appropriately so, since it’s 50 years and the diary is one of the many reasons why we came to Florida.
Joe: Sure. How do they submit those diaries?
Amy: A person would be selected, typically it’s by their address on where they live. The case of diaries though over the years, it could be your telephone number, and so that has evolved certainly. But today it is address based sampling and we are getting a variety of households to participate, but certainly those response rates have continually gone down, right? And more people would want us to be able to identify what’s being viewed by audio encoding and that’s how we today currently are identifying much of what content is being consumed by us, the consumers.
Joe: So it seems like that data, it should be relatively available through the cable boxes, it seems like somebody could build it in there.
Amy: Yeah, good point.
Joe: And they haven’t done that, or…?
Amy: They have return path capabilities and set-top boxed data might be what our friends at Spectrum would be able to provide or charter or… some of the large providers across the United States. We actually partner with quite a few of them to provide us with what is being consumed. But I use my own home here in St. Pete as an example. I have six television sets – I should say we – in my household, right? They’re not just all mine. But I probably consume more of the content than anybody else. But on the six sets there’s only one that’s hooked up to my Spectrum formerly Bright House cable settop box, right? So of the five other TV sets return path data capabilities are only coming from that main set in my living room. And I happen to watch a lot of TV, sadly or not, unfortunately in the kitchen, right?
Amy: Six seems extreme.
Amy: Does it? Well, two are in the garage so they don’t get consumed. But you’re right, I would say… None are in bedrooms either. It’s just we have a lot of ways to consume that content on traditional TV platforms and that’s not counting iPads, cell phones, right? But the return path capability in my house – my house may be different than either one of you, but I only have one set that the cable company knows what content was being provided to watch, right? So if I was tuned into a cable provider, ESPN or the Hallmark Channel or something like that on the main TV in my home it would know that, right? That return path capability is there. But none of the other sets have that in my particular household since I don’t have any other cable set-top boxes. So it’s not getting the entire picture if you will of the consumption that’s going on in the home. So that’s why the evolution of all this has had to change and we went from that old school where I’ve already stayed at channel change approach, what channel was on the TV set at a particular time, to moving to what content was being consumed at a particular time, what was on a particular channel. And whether you watch it online or you watch it on traditional linear television, we have the capability of identifying that because of audio encoding. And there’s audio codes and signatures and now today we call watermarks that allow us to uniquely identify even content that might be aired on all channels, a State of the Union or something like that that we can identify where you watched it, Joe, versus where Ashley watched it.
Ashley: And then Nielsen has the data to understand a bit of what your profile would be in terms of the consumer…
Amy: Yes, yes, not to cut you off because I think that’s where you were going with who the consumer is. And really that’s where we come into play because our company that started in 1923 is family owned and operated. From 1923 until 1984 the Nielsen family, mister Nielsen senior, A.C. Nielsen senior and his son who took over, that company was family owned and operated and it was really kind of the Holy Grail of data advertising lead to a purchase. So our company has really two big segments and we’ve only talked about one, which is the Watch and Listen segment. We have Radio Measurement as well. But we also have a Buy segment which tells me how much KeVita is being purchased versus how much Nestle Pure Life water. I’m seeing some interesting beverages here, Hint, watermelon, water infused, zero calorie drink.
Joe: We’re advanced beverage consumers here.
Amy: I’m intrigued.
Ashley: Joe’s is somewhat nondescript, mine is a probiotic infused culturally-adept drink and Amy’s got some pure water.
Amy: Bring all the water over here.
Amy: But that’s a big piece of what Nielsen can provide to a client like the one I have in my hand, which happens to be Nestle. They own Zephyrhills water so here in the Tampa Bay area we would be able to provide who is buying Zephyrhills water versus who is buying their other brand which happens to be the Pure Life brand owned by the same company. And Nestle’s been a big client for many years for Nielsen. So it’s consumer information, who is buying what, who is consuming what content-wise and who is listening to what. Since 2013 we acquired Arbitron who had been the long-time radio research company out Maryland and we were competing with them for many years and then in 2013 we acquired them and now we have our Nielsen audio brand which tells us who is listening to what on radio.
Ashley: Are you moving into streaming with that, are you moving into an even…
Amy: Yes, exciting.
Ashley: You’re doing measurement around podcasting too, right?
Amy: We do, and we have capability there with… I was just talking to the 15-year old crowd. My daughter goes to St. Pete High, right? So I try to stay up to speed on at least music, right? Love music, love live music and just was at Jannus Landing on Friday night with some live music consumption, right? That’s not what we’re measuring there but we are measuring how many units sold. So in 2017 Ed Sheeran would have been the kind of high volume guy and you see somebody like Ed Sheeran or Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift coming up at the top of the charts for total consumption and albums. Interestingly enough we’re talking probably those vinyl records that you would’ve thought have gone along the way side have become very popular again.
Joe: That’s the trick, while the shows that got canceled after one season, they wouldn’t be cult classics right now if they hadn’t gotten cancelled after one season. If they had ran on three or four, run out of ideas, they would’ve just been lost to history. So these people should appreciate that Nielsen caused them to become this known thing.
Amy: [laughing] That’s what I’m here to debunk, right? Using your words. But no, if there was enough, if there was 100 episodes to put into that Monday through Friday strip we could all see it in syndication, so it could live on.
Amy: But you think about the 1950’s when we first started to measure television the number one show for four years which was only on a very short time was I Love Lucy show, it was that kind of iconic show. But there was enough episodes to live on so that our children can maybe enjoy some of the same humor that we might have, or our parents…
Joe: You mentioned the Hallmark channel. I would pay for a service that – I think they only have about six movies that they show over and over, and I would pay for a service that would ping me when my mother has watched one of those movies over five times and…
Ashley: I know that, yeah.
Joe: …I could just go to her house and make sure she gets out and see some daylight.
Amy: Joe, your mom and I might have something in common there, sadly. Sadly that may be the case. Not that I play favorites, but I especially around the holidays tend to tune in.
Ashley: That’s where they get you, right? The holidays, with some of the…
Amy: That’s their Super Bowl…
Ashley: …the love stories, with like Candace Cameron…
Amy: And the Saturday Night Live.
Ashley: Candace Cameron…
Amy: Proof told me.
Joe: That’s the Hallmark Super Bowls.
Amy: It’s the Hallmark Super Bowl. So one time a year when…
Joe: …the ad’s going for five million the minute?
Amy: Not quite as high as that. But I could probably find that out through one of our mechanisms internally. So…
Joe: They did alright though for being a niche channel, they have some devotion to them.
Amy: They do.
Joe: So tell me a little bit more about how deep you get into the statistics. Do you have employees or people that are regularly at the brand’s offices, occasion with them on their media buying and the direction they go? And can you take that data? How much can you AB test? Would they put out different ads through different platforms and what not? And then how far down that road do you go with them?
Amy: Well, the answer to that is in a lot of ways we have my colleagues that sit on site at a big client like Walmart – we just resigned Walmart this year in Sam’s Club so that’s very exciting for Nielsen – and there are colleagues that live right there by the client within their entity in Bentonville Arkansas. And we have clients’ sites that our colleagues are sitting in across the United States and across the globe. So Nielsen operates today in over 106 countries and having been there for the couple of decades that I have it’s been fun to watch how we’ve increased that number and certainly how it’s different, right? How we do things differently across in emerging markets versus how we do them here in the United States. Initially we saw a lot from our Canadian friends and colleagues, how things were changed. In fact they retired the diary a long time ago in Canada versus us having the diary for 60 years here in the United States. But it does have to be what the market is looking for and in this market, meaning the United States here domestically, the diary continued to live on because it was affordable, and it was still a great way to identify who is watching what in smaller markets. Having come to Florida 37 years ago from what would be considered a smaller market, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and New York Pennsylvania, it was actually a top-50 market that never chose to move in a different direction from the diary. So for 60 years Harrisburg, Pennsylvania has been using a diary and will change as of this May. So that evolution has been exciting to see. So to go back to your question on being on site, we have a lot of that. We have not just on the Buy side, which I started to mention, the Buy side of Nielsen, who is purchasing what, with the big clients – as mentioned, Nestle, Coca Cola would be in that, as well as Proctor and Gamble. So Nielsen has a big presence in Cincinnati right across the street from P&G, so one of if not the big top five clients for all of Nielsen because they’re a big advertiser. And mentioning again what Mr. Nielsen always had in mind, which was to identify that Holy Grail. You want to know how much Tide detergent was being purchased, we could then take some of that data and identify well, here’s where the ad content was going out there. Certainly it’s evolved, we’ve done a lot of changing over these years, many years, and what started out as Mr. Nielsen being in the business of engineering performance surveys to identifying how many Campbell soup cans were coming off the line to identifying then when there was radio advertising and then eventually in 1950 with television advertising, signing those clients on and all of the… starting with New York and Chicago, Los Angeles and moving forward with signing these clients over the years and growing our business. The media side of Nielsen was not a huge money maker for almost 18 years and the consumer measurement, what we used to call marketing research side of Nielsen was keeping us afloat. We did make a great decision to move the production of the media measurement business to Florida and that’s what happened 50 years ago, and the diary was certainly that tool, as mentioned. And this was a great place to mail the diary from and to have it returned back to us. We could also have a population of employees that wanted to work for us on a cyclical basis that were interested in editing the data that came in and calling people to see if they’d be willing to participate. And you asked about colleagues that are focused on statistics. It was fascinating to me, I’d never taken – even in College – never took a statistics class until I joined Nielsen, in probably 1996-1997 I took my first real statistic class up in Schaumburg, Illinois, right where Nielsen has its roots in the Chicago area. And I took that class alongside my colleagues that were considered statistical research experts and methodological research experts – today we call them data scientists. So in the building that I happen to work out of which is called our Global Technology and Innovation Center many of my colleagues are truly scientists. And our tagline today, ‘the science behind what’s next,’ is I think daily something that I can view, having been earlier today with an electrical engineer in an audio lab talking about the testing that goes on within Nielsen homes and how we are trying to identify when somebody might be in an apartment complex in Brooklyn where there might be a TV on in one room and a radio on in another and how all that content can be still identified, right? So we do a lot of that testing in our facility right here in Pinellas County up in the Oldsmar area and that building that we built 14 years ago houses those engineers, the data scientists and of course the information technology professionals that are identifying new ways to assist our clients’ efforts. And probably over the years some of the more innovative things have been to take a brand, whether it would be the new Coke, and identify how that might trend, how it might sell, what might be the chance for that new product to live. So there’s different facets of this business that have certainly kept me engaged in what I do for the last two dozen years. It’s absolutely fascinating.
Ashley: So understanding what you’re able to offer P&G in terms of insights around their advertising, are you also able to aggregate all of your collective data about said product and to go to R&D and go to product and say fortunately or unfortunately all natural products or products that have low sodium, high protein – let’s say we’re talking about soup – those are from a category perspective actually outperforming those options that don’t meet that criteria? – and actually inform the organization at various touchpoints in product creation, in display, in even the qualities of their products that they’re talking about in their advertising?
Amy: So you’ve mentioned all of that life cycle, we wanna be the partner with a client when it comes to making those decisions based on even the placement of the product on the shelf. And today in my colleagues buy engineering area… so we have a full store set up. We happen to make a big purchase, a great purchase at the local Oldsmar Walmart where I think many people were wondering what kind of party we were gonna throw with all the various products we were purchasing. But made the purchase so that we could display on the shelves all the different varieties that might be out there that might be just a little bit different, one product might look a little bit like the other, but yet there’s some facet there that’s a little bit different. So we’re using that store today to identify with the cell phones that all of us have ways that we can identify things about that product just by using the barcode, but today we’re using it for training purposes for our in-store personnel and as mentioned earlier, in emerging markets there are different ways that we have in our back pocket that we can use to identify who is buying what. And sometimes it’s in much smaller areas, much more less populated areas of the world we may still have to go in and use the old paper and pen methodology, we’d even gone in and had a separate garbage can for products that were being thrown away just to be able to understand more about the consumption of products. So we go to great lengths no matter where we are, whether again, domestically or internationally, how we can identify who is buying what and to partner with those clients to identify and understand more about the consumer – and whether or not this KeVita this sparkling probiotic.
Ashley: I went to soup from KeVita. I probably should have stayed on our example. But if I’m KeVita and you’re giving me feedback on my advertising but then you say items that have probiotics and that are fermented are actually being eclipsed by drinks that offering, that have carbonation to them, that have protein infused in them or whatever it may be, and you’re informing my business at a different level.
Amy: So it’s been interesting to see what has grown tremendously. So some of the things that I might get into from the buy side of our business, which is – again, Florida has been mostly media focused, but I love to learn from these colleagues that have been exposed to the variety of FMCG, Fast Moving Consumer Goods companies and what they’re learning and what Nielsen can help to provide them. But using that example where the packaging, we have a facet of Nielsen, we acquired a company called Brand Bank which identifies every single one of the products with taking a picture of them, and obviously with technology the way it is today being able to move forward with not having to have in-store counts and looking at the end caps. And if you are a client like Publix a lot of that data you collect on your own, but there’s other ways that we can help. But if you’re also your own brand, right? You mentioned that earlier, at least I thought you were going in that direction with the store brands that have increased in popularity and certainly those products that might have less salt, low sodium, all of the ways that we can see – and I will tell you that it’s been incredible to see the increase in some of those organic brands and some of the… I would say liquid drinks, the caffeinated coffee, obviously I drink coffee through liquid form anyway, but having it already made, the pre-made coffees, have you noticed that that’s taking more shelf space than what it once did?
Joe: Cold brews.
Amy: So pre-made…
Amy: Yeah, the Nitro… And teas. So both coffees and teas have exploded in the last year, where you see this shelf space with products like both of you have that are taking over from our old standard true sodas. And I just watch it in my daughter and her friends that they’re just not drinking that.
Ashley: So you have those insights that are based on purchase and consumption behavior, but some of your insights that are broader in their assumptions – I’ve read one about Americans’ commitment to restrict sugar in their daily diets and how maybe a quarter or a little bit North of that. That’s important to them. So are you doing focus groups outside of your typical what we watch, what we listen to, what we buy, that are culling more metadata in such a way?
Amy: Yeah. And it’s something that I’ve been very proud of to be a part of, a very small part of, because I do work within the diversity inclusion arena for Nielsen today. And just to see insights on who is buying what, whether it’s an African American consumer, an Asian consumer, the LGBTQ consumer – wow, that has exploded in the past couple of years. I’m so proud of the company that I work for because we’ve been realizing that what’s important to us – and we’ve had an external advisory council for almost 12 years now where these external advisors come in from other areas, other industries, some are media, some are advertising, some are working in diversity and inclusion themselves and they look at all of what we provide and say: this should really be a little bit different, Nielsen should increase minority supplier diversity, we should have more business with minority and women-owned business. And so that has been on the top of the list, increasing our diverse workforce has been at the top of the list. But it all of course revolves around what’s the appropriate thing going back to the client and the consumer measurement that we have been in for 95 years. So what we can provide has evolved and it’s changed and it’s exciting and I’ve been very proud to watch that evolution at least for the brief time… I don’t know if you call ‘brief’ 24 years, but in the time that I have. And I’ve stated before, people still reference us here in Florida as Nielsen Media and I’m here to say that we are one Nielsen and that we do have what people watch, buy and listen to as everything under that umbrella including much more excitement.
Ashley: Can you share with our audience some of your observations if you take the past year of what you are observing about what we’re consuming or how we’re watching or something that we’d be surprised to learn?
Amy: Yeah. Netflix has been probably at the top of everybody’s list to hear and learn a little bit more about. At the end of 2017 we were able to release some information related to when you compare something like Stranger Things 2 and the release of that and the binge-watching that is going on across I think our globe [laughing]… but specifically in the United States. And when you stack up a Stranger Things 2 episode it might hold its own against the Big Bang theory, which is you’re seeing probably something that others might not necessarily agree with. Oh, I think people are watching less TV, but I think they’re consuming more. And of course the social content ratings are fascinating, with people commenting on the Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead or even last night’s Bachelor, right? Those probably are at the top of the list for 2017, shows like This Is Us where people are going on and commenting about what’s on television. But Netflix has probably been one of the bigger stories for us being able to provide information to our clients related to what they’re consuming related to that binging. I remember the release was right around Halloween and there were probably 14 and 15-year-olds that got together at my friend’s house to watch that Stranger Things and all eight episodes, I think.
Ashley: Do you get into product release right now, though? So if you think about Netflix and the aversion to…?
Amy: Yes, yeah. So we have a Sports and Entertainment division. In fact we just had some of our colleagues in that we’re here for the NHL hockey all-star game in Tampa and we love it when we can host big sporting events, and I guess we’re getting ready for 2021 with the Super Bowl that will be able to be back in the Bay area, which is very exciting. So my colleagues in Sports and Entertainment tell me that when you think about the Eggo waffle in something like Stranger Things 2 and Stranger Things – I guess it was more evident in the first episodes than the second run – but that is exactly what we can count and it is a big piece of what some of the acquisitions that we’ve made in 2016-2017 have been allowing us to do to be able to identify that. We made a acquisition of a company called Repucom that allows us to identify a lot of that, not just within what we just mentioned – Netflix and the brand and showing us that product – but consumer consumption when you’re watching a sporting event. And so many of us who are fans of our hometown teams or beyond, you think about all the logos that you’re seeing and all the companies that spend a lot of money to advertise within that realm, it’s another piece of our pie.
Joe: At the center of that retail universe right now, kind of the big black hole gobbling everybody up is Amazon. And I think they’re pretty in when it comes to their data. How is that disrupting things with your clients and with this space in general?
Amy: Well, I think they’re coming up with their own content, right? I think I heard today just on that same note, Netflix spending more for original content, 27 billion I think would it be, I think I heard that, we’ll have to verify it that’s…
Joe: We are accepting calls, Amazon, for the podcast – just so you know, yeah.
Amy: Yeah. And that was Netflix. But Amazon, gosh, I think that they’re everywhere, they’re prevalent and so pervasive and involved in everything that we’re all doing, right? Not just what Nielsen is involved with. I even talked with a colleague the other day, we’re moving some data to Amazon, the cloud offering from Amazon. So they’re everywhere, right?
Amy: I personally couldn’t tell you any content right now, but are you familiar with some of it?
Joe: The Amazon, or…?
Amy: Yeah, their content.
Joe: Yeah. House of Cards, this is the big one that Kevin Spacey
Amy: Well, that’s Netflix.
Joe: Is it? Oh…
Amy: Yeah, that one…
Amy: I’m not sure.
Joe: What was the big one? There are some.
Amy: I am supposed to stay a nonbiased outside third party, so…
Joe: I didn’t miss that.
Amy: I don’t want to say that I’ve been watching Stranger Things 2 when in fact maybe I haven’t or maybe I have, I don’t know. But whatever subscription video on demand option or Hulu, or any option that you have… I ended up buying Hulu for my parents and then not necessarily anybody ever using it, sadly enough. We consume some Netflix, we consume… I’m a traditional TV kind of gal, so again, I’m wearing my Nielsen hat so I can’t play any favorites. But it does change our business, and so you’re exactly right with that Joe, it’s… Any way that you can get content, we wanna be able to provide that viewership, really.
Ashley: So, Joe and I, we were sitting in a panel addressing entrepreneurs and small business owners and there were questions about Amazon and Facebook and how Facebook got their information and how they understood the data on the audiences that they served up. And Joe had a very profound revelation about how…
Joe: Damn right!
Ashley: …it was a singular moment of profound insight that stands out to me. And in that you talked about some of the technology that’s now part of our daily life that’s secretly – maybe not so secretly – getting information and listening in to what we’re doing, whether it’s Alexa or some other assumptions. And I wonder, Joe, if you want to elaborate on that and how that’s affecting Nielsen and some of the technology changes from a hardware perspective.
Joe: Yeah, what happened – we went into something that we’ve experimented here at Big Sea but… I had a young gentleman in who just wanted some business life advice or whatever and he asked me for some of my favorite book recommendations. And I mentioned one to him that I haven’t touched in two-three years, I haven’t searched for it, I haven’t interacted with it in any way, simply just said it in the room to him sitting in the chair next to me. And the next time I got to my computer and went on Facebook I was served up multiple adds for that book.
Joe: So it actually heard the words through my phone because I have the Facebook app on my phone and it was able to translate that into ads.
Amy: Wow! I know my husband has made some… he was not happy that Santa Claus brought Alexa to our house, because he thinks that…
Ashley: Alexa’s tapped.
Amy: Yeah. That my 15-year-old is gonna be ordering all kinds of vinyls. But instead we’re just gonna go to Daddy Cool, we’re just gonna buy, shop local here and make sure that we get our vinyls at home rather than ordering them off Alexa and Amazon. But yeah, we are definitely changing the way that we do what we do, more software capabilities than ever before, to be able to identify content. And I’m sitting here with my FitBit watch on and I think this obviously would be the most I guess obvious choice to move in the direction of wearables and cell phone – I’m looking at the phones here on the desk, but ways too that we are – we’re not gonna leave the house without our cell phone, right? Nielsen has a portable people meter today that identifies audio in home, consumption, out-of-home consumption and it might not be that you would go back if you forgot that portable people meter that is identifying… When I get up in the morning it might not be the top of the list. We do have literally hundreds of thousand of participants across the globe that carry a portable people meter for us, but the wearable option and the cell phone option to be able to identify that content through the audio code or watermark is really the direction that we’re going in, and I’m very proud of the engineering staff and IT colleagues that I work with because when you talk about the number of patents that we have at Nielsen we’re probably – well, we are definitely second to the University of South Florida in this area, but there’s hundreds, over 500 patents right now that I’d like to toot the horn off these colleagues that I’ve worked on ways to identify audio content, for instance. And we have a demonstration room for clients and students at Nielsen and there’s 90 patents on the wall, and the vast majority of those 90 patents that are just displayed, they just happen to have 90 – are all about in the mid ‘90s moving towards something that we called active passive metering. And it was identifying an active code that was embedded in audio and if it couldn’t find that code or didn’t identify it then we would take what we call a fingerprint of the audio or a signature, a unique identification. Not really a recording of it, but just enough to identify that content. And so moving in that direction in the mid ‘90s allowed us to take that base if you will and move forward with audio content measurement. And so it’s become again, the backbone to what we do for identifying that consumption. And it’s incredible how we’ve evolved.
Ashley: And I should have asked this before because – I know you mentioned Facebook with the most recent example of the technology that maybe listens, but have you approached Facebook for…?
Amy: We do already partner with Facebook, so they’re a big piece of what we do to be able to identify demographic information. And so that was probably a deal that has been made certainly… it’s 2018 now, right?
Ashley: We think it is.
Amy: Yeah, it’s been a few years back, I’m gonna say six-eight years, but six probably we’ve worked with them.
Ashley: And does that speak to demographics, but also maybe the interconnectedness to different platform consumption? So, TV and then social commentary that’s something else, and you’re trying to bridge all those…?
Amy: Yeah. And again, that social content rating for us is – we used to kind of dabble in what we call buzz metrics, what was out there and people talking about… Now we’ve moved in this direction with the social content. And as mentioned it may be that people are tweeting or they’re certainly mentioning some of the content that they may have watched but tying it together – and I think you used it very well with the interconnection among all of that. And it’s kind of exciting to use the historical affirmation that Mr. Nielsen had always thought that this was bringing it full circle, right? He had no idea that this was going to happen with all of it but making sure that you get an ad today that is specific to you because of what you’ve already stated or a purchase you’ve already made and so those kinds of specific consumer advertising options are becoming, I think, common in our society.
Joe: So following on the Facebook thread, one of the known effects of how Facebook makes available the demographic information and then the ads that tend to follow that are it tends to segment people by ideology a little more effectively in that if they believe something they tend to self-select that content and then obviously something slightly more salacious is always intriguing. If you want to know something about a celebrity or politician or anything and they say here is the newly revealed email or whatever they just – the more salacious the headlines the more the hook. And then that tends to over time move people to more extreme points of view about things, because a) they’re getting fed just the same flavor of content constantly, and then they tend to also start to see because of the Facebook algorithms the same kind of content even from their family and friends, so the stuff that they linger on, Facebook gives them more of that which then sort of…
Ashley: Right, it’s fascinating.
Joe: …crashes the diversity of what they’re seeing. And so the end result is pretty tight silos that people end up in as a demographic based around some collective group or ideology. Does that resonate with what you’ve seen in…?
Amy: Well, I’m probably the last person, Joe, that you want to ask about Facebook, since I’m not officially on Facebook. I will say that my family is sort of on Facebook, right? My daughter, my husband… But I just vicariously live through them on the Facebook side of things, so… I am an Instagrammer – is that a word? Instagrammer?
Ashley: It is.
Amy: And I absolutely have had some fun with Snapchat. I might not be the one that does everything perfectly, I recently was trying to send something directly to my niece so that got put on my story for everybody to see, which was just a picture of a grilled cheese.
Amy: And in Charlotte, North Carolina where she happens to go to college. So I haven’t quite mastered a lot of these mechanisms of 2018, maybe I’m giving away the fact that I’m almost a boomer, I am Gen X, but I definitely try to identify with the millennial thing, I just am not probably the best person to ask about it. But I obviously have made my own thoughts clear when I see a conservative brother of mine who happens to have all of that being fed directly – I’ve seen it, and certainly I think it goes back to how today is so intriguing and interesting and exciting in this world of data analytics and how Nielsen can continue to play a role even as we evolve with all the tools that are at our fingertips. And I think Ashley, you said you have a five-year-old?
Ashley: I do. Almost five.
Amy: So, almost five. I can’t even imagine that your five-year-old has gone life without that iPad to keep them busy, right?
Amy: And the consumption of content in that way has just been a part of their life.
Ashley: Absolutely. You know what I like though? And Joe, I appreciated your question about the audiences and how they’re… what’s the word I’m looking for? Not influenced, but their receptivity and how that influences their engagement or their perceptions. And what I really appreciate about your appeal to different audiences is you’ve moved beyond qualifying millennials and boomers and you’ve moved into a social sphere in terms of really understanding getting to diversity and getting into the psychodynamics of different audiences beyond the demographics, right?
Amy: Yeah, not to cut you off there, I mean we started employing resource groups at Nielsen over a decade ago, it happened to start with our Hispanic employee resource group, but we’ve now included our N-Gen group to bridge the gap between all of the generations. And amongst that would be any individual that wants to get involved in our business that way but also to learn from the diversity of thought brought in from any group, anybody can join any group. Today we just had a huge event where we have a fundraiser for a local organization that happens to be near and dear to me right here in Pinellas County. AMIkids started with their headquarters in Tampa, so very relevant in the local community with seven states now that AMIkids happens to have a presence in. But we had probably 12 AMIkids, maybe even more, serving up Chick-Fil-A while we were doing a fundraiser through our African-American employee resource group. And it was such fun to watch all of the activity going on on our campus if you will, that was stemmed from the diversity of our colleagues, of my colleagues. We went from that fundraiser at lunch to when I left they were doing the completion of our winter Olympic games that we had going on over 18 different countries participating and everybody has a little beanie that has the Nielsen logo and the colors of the country that they’re representing. And boy oh boy, I think they were doing ice dancing or something along those lines today, which is a heck of a lot of fun. So making the employee environment engaging for any age to come to work, whether you have a flexible job or not in this day and age – we struggle a little bit with making sure that if 61% of our millennial workforce is engaged, first and foremost that’s where we’re at, that number continues to rise so we want to make it a great place to work, right? And I think it really has been for me personally, but I want it to be for all of my colleagues as well, so not only do we have – I like to bring this up, I think it’s the three P’s. I think it’s obviously the people, first and foremost to me that’s especially the most important thing. But the products, and today our products couldn’t be more interesting, especially because of the acquisitions that we’ve made. A recent acquisition I got to visit out in Emeryville, California was a company that’s now a Nielsen company called Gracenote. So all the metadata that we see in our cars, in our vehicles telling us a little bit about the songs that we’re listening to, and when I’m recording a program if I’m gonna record This is Us on NBC it tells me what episode it is – and all that data is now Nielsen! And so that acquisition which was a brilliant move to acquire Gracenote has just been exciting to see how Nielsen has moved in that direction with those evolutions. But the work environment has been fun.
Ashley: What’s the final P?
Amy: Place. And I couldn’t be happier that we have our largest facility in the world right here in Tampa Bay. Not only do we have about 2,450 people coming to work in Oldsmar, Florida – we hope they’re coming into that office rather than working from home. Although there’s some flexibility and people certainly have that privilege, but living and working out of this area has just been, again, 50 years in the making, and this has been the right spot to do business for Nielsen even though it’s evolved over those 50 years we’ve continued to grow, and it quite frankly is not only the largest number of employees, but the largest in square footage. So like I mentioned, we love to invite people out, we open up our facility all the time to community groups to use it for non-profits if they are trying to raise funds, and we… gosh… we probably do that 60 times a year. We raised at the facility over $100,000 for a local charity Oldsmar Cares just two weeks ago. And last year… If you combine ’16 and ’17, 2016 and 2017, we had over 2,200 students come through the door, and that to me is a very fulfilling part of my job, to be able to work with students no matter what age. And again, it goes back to the future and why we’re proud to be part of Tampa Bay.
Ashley: So we do not resort to kitschy – is that what you use? – kitschy games or anything like that on SPX, but this feels like sweet, sweet revenge Amy, because I had the opportunity to meet Amy… she addressed our Leadership St. Pete class at our opening retreat early in 2017 and part of that was a fun game of trivia where you bestowed some lovely alcoholic beverages not opened to the class… which was great.
Amy: I think they were St. Pete products, right?
Ashley: Were they?
Ashley: I don’t know if I remember that.
Amy: Yeah, Green Bench, yeah, and 3 Daughters, yes.
Ashley: All I know is it was cutthroat, I was going through – I was trying to win, I did not but the trivia was cool. And I wanted to do a quick contest with Joe and Amy to see who knows what, and I think what’s on the line it can either be Hallmark related or… what’s the prize?
Amy: I think Joe’s got his hint water melon water over there. I don’t know.
Joe: I think if I win Nielsen should guarantee us a million listeners.
Joe: And if…
Ashley: …if Amy wins…
Joe: If Amy wins then she can also guarantee us a million listeners…
Joe: …for just her episode as opposed to every episode.
Ashley: It was great and I was surprised at how much my classmates knew, obviously they’re big TV consumers. And this is not this, I pulled a few things from Nielsen. And so, in note, the recording date, we’re early March so this is actually my first question, it’s a Valentine’s question. So what was the top selling bakery item on Valentine’s Day? You each get a chance.
Joe: Bakery item…
Ashley: On Valentine’s Day.
Ashley: And what’s your choice?
Joe: Well, you have to say yes or no, then I’ll know…
Ashley: It was not cupcakes. Cupcakes was number four.
Ashley: This is all coming from Nielsen.
Joe: Umm… bakery item…
Ashley: Did you shop on Valentine’s Day for a loved one?
Joe: I bought so many bakery items, I just don’t know which one it fit…
Amy: I think most people buy chocolates or maybe…
Ashley: Think about it. Think about Valentine’s Day…
Amy: I’m giving you that, Joe.
Ashley: …and what’s up for grabs.
Joe: I’m gonna say glazed donut.
Amy: That actually… donuts was actually under cupcake, so Amy you took that one.
Amy: [laughing] Not by a landslide, though.
Joe: Not the romantic glazed donut?
Ashley: I apologize to Joe’s wife…
Amy: Where are you from?
Joe: Yes, and I’m questioning your methodology here.
Ashley: I apologize to Joe’s wife as he consumed the treats for you. Actually…
Amy: Chocolate brownie?
Ashley: Dipped and covered treats was the number one consumers purchased…
Joe: How is that a bakery item?
Ashley: …and message cookies.
Joe: Message cookies…
Ashley: Personalized message cookies.
Amy: Cookies, yeah.
Ashley: Okay, this next question is audio related, this is music streaming related to Justin Timberlake. I’m gonna give you three JT songs, you’re gonna tell me the one that has the most downloads. Was it Justin Timberlake’s Mirrors, was it his song Sexy Back or was it his song Can’t Stop the Feeling?
Joe: Oh my favorite is Mirrors, so I’m gonna vote for it just because it’s my favorite.
Amy: And I’m gonna say Can’t Stop the Feeling.
Ashley: Can’t Stop the Feeling was number one in terms of audio downloads.
Joe: I have a deeper taste than the general public.
Ashley: Mirrors was down there, actually Mirrors was third. But I think they did a lot of JT research ensuring with Nielsen audiences right around the Super Bowl when JT took stage…
Amy: He was the halftime show…
Ashley: …and unleashed his new album. Okay. The primary reason why somebody goes to a physical auto dealer shop. I’ll give you three options: is it price/value, is it financing or is it car selection?
Joe: Price/value, finance – I’m gonna say probably… financing.
Amy: I’ll say car selection.
Ashley: Car selection was the number one reason that people go to an auto dealer shop according to Nielsen. Good job, Amy.
Joe: By the way, Amy, I’m just gonna give a little insight, when I went to podcasters school they said, ‘Always make your guest look good.’
Amy: Thank you, because I had not seen any of this.
Ashley: Okay, this is the one last one, this one is what do you call it when it’s all or nothing?
Joe: Winner take all?
Ashley: Winner take all.
Amy: Final Jeopardy.
Joe: Or sometimes called ‘all or nothing’.
Ashley: I don’t know if I feel good about that, because Amy is really winning.
Joe: I mean she’s on, yeah.
Ashley: This is actually not multiple choice, Nielsen shared this data actually I think today. So what percentage of US shoppers bought groceries online in 2016? Nielsen’s making a big push…
Joe: No, 2016 is a while ago, it was not that then.
Ashley: Yeah, it was, and they’re making a big push right now in bringing the analytics to the surface in terms of how much of us no longer want to shop and leave our homes and do any of the work.
Ashley: We can do as prices were right style, you can go…
Amy: I think in 2016 online shopping was…
Joe: For groceries.
Amy: …yeah, for groceries. For groceries, hmm…
Joe: People were buying off Amazon, I guess.
Amy: Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good guess, Joe.
Ashley: I think it was a really good guess.
Amy: Yeah. Maybe we’re on the same page.
Joe: Just do 23.1.
Amy: Yeah [laughing].
Ashley: [laughing] So do you say 23?
Amy: He did.
Joe: I said 23.
Ashley: And what’s your number?
Amy: I was gonna go…
Ashley: Around that?
Amy: …right around that, because 24% is sounding really good right now.
Ashley: Yeah. The answer is 23%. I mean…
Amy: Joe! He was, right on the money.
Ashley: Poor musical taste, doesn’t know anything about romance, yet he can figure out how many online shoppers…
Amy: To the exact number.
Ashley: To the exact number.
Amy: That’s impressive.
Ashley: This should be a moment of pride for you.
Joe: That is my demographic [laughing].
Ashley: [laughing] Is that how you bought your Valentine’s Day?
Amy: I’m impressed.
Ashley: I am too.
Joe: Yeah. Well, Amy was…
Ashley: She did. Amy, nice work.
Joe: So she stayed there with me, so she felt it too.
Ashley: I will say, if you’re not following Nielsen and that at all appealed to you, you need to do it because I think I learned a lot about great musical artists. And a lot of the stuff that happened around the Super Bowl most recently, but also like I mentioned earlier just how our consumption behaviors and how we’re completely…
Amy: It’s fascinating.
Amy: It really is.
Joe: And they have a podcast as well, it’s called Data, I believe, or something like that.
Ashley: I did see that.
Joe: I listened to an episode, it was cool.
Ashley: Sorry, no alcohol to bestow, but…
Joe: Yeah, they didn’t have to resort to cheap tricks like…
Joe: …trivia questions, but…
Ashley: Yeah. I won’t do that again, but that was fun.
Joe: That was fun.
Amy: Well, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you all.
Amy: I’m happy that you gave me an invitation.
Joe: You’re not off the hook yet, though.
Amy: Okay, alright.
Joe: Well, first I want to say I’m impressed by your command of the numbers. I know that’s part of your job, but if you ask me how my kids are I have to look up into the right for about 30 seconds. Just really, you throughout the years and the stats and I’m assuming they’re all accurate, you obviously have some…
Amy: I’m adding up. Yeah, I hope so.
Joe: Yeah, then that was impressive. We end every show with a shout-out. So, you’ve been in the community for a long time as you mentioned and so this shout-out is for a person or organization that is sort of under the radar that could use a little more attention for the good work they do that you just want to give them that.
Amy: Goodness gracious, to just say one would be difficult. I think I already said one that I think is a little bit of a hidden gem in our community for maybe troubled youth, kids who may have made the wrong decision and that was my friends at AMIkids Pinellas specifically. We just got a new building in Pinellas Park moving from Pass-a-Grille and just selling that site and moving to the center of the county to hopefully serve more kids. The executive director there Robert Jonson, he and his wife are from St. Petersburg Florida, natives. And I think they are truly examples of individuals that others would want to emulate from St. Petersburg. They give their hearts and souls to youth; their story is really incredible and the fact that Robert runs that organization and… And certainly, it’s one that’s in need to continue to get some of the goodwill that’s out there across Tampa Bay. But near and dear, I would say that that one is something that has really been here in Pinellas county for 45 years, and not many people necessarily know about the fact that they are really doing some good in our community. So, I guess that would be my one – since I already gave them a plug I’ll continue to say that that was a hidden gem.
Ashley: I don’t know if you happen to know the former development officer, Shannon Jager who worked there. Shannon was a development officer at the YMCA prior coming over to AMI and a dear friend to our community and passed away recently, but a lovely, lovely…
Amy: And a graduate of local schools I understand and…
Ashley: Yes. Kind of prepped her for that.
Amy: It goes back to these wonderful people that we have and, in this case, had – but made a difference in other people’s lives. And I’ve had the great fortune of working with some wonderful groups just yesterday at the Pinellas Education Foundation, where obviously much of what we do in the community focuses on education and so any ways that we can give back to our students already gave a plug for the fact that we love it when we bring students in and we will continue to do that, that’s what our job is. And I think all of us collectively, whether we have kids or not, whether we can mentor a youth here in our community, that is what the calling is all about. So if I could state that, maybe I’ve over-stepped my boundary…
Joe: Not at all.
Amy: …two plugs, but anything you can do for a student I think would be well deserved and the enrichment there is wonderful. I am a Lunch Pal once a week with a fifth grader at Oldsmar Elementary and it’s probably the highlight of my week to hang out with some fifth graders and just be a sounding board for anything that those young ladies would want to talk about at Oldsmar Elementary. So I think teachers and educators don’t get certainly nearly the reward that they deserve, so that would be my final call-out I think here in Pinellas. And Dr. Michael Grego has just done a phenomenal job as our superintendent.
Ashley: Yes. Well, thank you. Thank you for your time today.
Joe: Thank you.
Amy: Thank you both.
Joe: Appreciate it.
Amy: It’s a pleasure.
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About the host
Joe Hamilton is the CEO of Big Sea, publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Joe brings a strong acumen for strategy and positioning businesses. He serves on several local boards, including TEDx Tampa Bay, which grew his desire to build a platform where the area’s thought leaders could share their valuable insight with the community at large.
Ashley Ryneska is the Vice President of Marketing for the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg and a founding Insight Board member at the St. Petersburg Group. Ashley believes meaningful conversations can serve as the gateway to resolution, freedom, and advancement for our city. Her passion for storytelling has been internationally recognized with multiple media accolades.