Cheyne Gateley for Variety
Nielsen named Karthik Rao its new chief executive, replacing his predecessor David Kenny, who has steered the measurement giant through an era of tumult and strained relationships with top clients like the TV networks.
Kenny will stay on as the company’s executive chair. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the executive transition.
“Nielsen has been my home for most of my career, and I could not be more excited for this new opportunity,” said Rao, a 23-year veteran, in a statement. “Providing our client partners, the ad industry, and content creators of all types, the most accurate information possible is our singular goal. Nielsen invented measurement a century ago. In that time, the way audiences consume content has fundamentally shifted many times over, and we are committed to continuing to partner with our customers to lead that change.”
Nielsen dominates the audience-measurement market, but it is facing increasing competition. Many of the big media companies it measures have openly expressed dissatisfaction with Nielsen’s ability to track viewership as people migrate from linear TV to streaming video. Paramount Global, NBCUniversal Warner Bros. Discovery and others have teamed up with upstarts such as iSpot.tv, VideoAmp and Comscore in bids to create alternate measures in which advertisers might invest. Goldman Sachs has invested $325 million in iSpot, which on Wednesday unveiled its acquisition of a smaller analytics rival, 605.
Nielsen was purchased in 2022 by a private-equity consortium including Elliott Investment Management and Brookfield Business Partners in a deal valued at about $16 billion including debut, and Rao’s elevation is one of the first concrete moves that has been made at the company since that time. Nielsen laid off about 9% of its staff earlier this month.
“We have spent the past five years engaged with Nielsen, and even more closely since the acquisition nearly a year ago. We have seen great progress already, and we want to thank David for all he has done to contribute to that success,” said David Kerko, head of private equity at Elliott, in a statement. “Karthik is now the right leader for Nielsen, which is well positioned to evolve with and support the media ecosystem as it undergoes a period of dramatic change. Karthik’s expansive industry experience, deep client relationships, and proven track record make him ideally suited to manage this evolution and make Nielsen’s value stronger than ever.”
Nielsen is seeking to win accreditation of a new system that it says will be able to count unduplicated audiences for content across linear, mobile and streaming. Even as it seeks that goal, it has come under scrutiny for flaws in its current methodologies. Accreditation for Nielsen’s national ratings service was suspended in September of 2021, after Nielsen acknowledged flaws in the way it tabulated audiences during the coronavirus pandemic. Nielsen won back industry approval in April of this year, but in May it was discovered that the company had undercounted audiences for Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl LVII.
Variety's Brian Steinberg contributed to this post.