When he joined the global information and measurement firm Nielsen in November 2018, David Kenny took on the role of the chief executive officer (CEO) as well as the chief diversity officer, a post he created himself. “It’s important that we measure everyone and be truly inclusive in hiring and promoting people...and I speak up for that as CEO," he said, explaining his designation, during a recent visit to New Delhi. An expert in data science and artificial intelligence (AI), Kenny served as senior vice-president of Cognitive Solutions at IBM, where he oversaw the company’s AI initiatives. In an interview, he spoke about the importance of inclusion, the move towards common metric across media platforms and his focus on cyber security. Edited excerpts:
Why do you wear the hat of chief diversity officer?
We are very focused on inclusion. We need to make sure when we are measuring for media, we are measuring the ratings for every person. We really care that in every country we find a way to measure every man, woman and child, and make sure we don’t have any gender, ethnic or urban bias in our work. We have made it a point of measuring the LGBTQ community in terms of media spends. Our product needs to be diverse and inclusive. To do that well, our own population has to be that way, so I’m committed to making sure we have gender diversity at every level of the organization. I took both the titles myself to send a signal that this is not just because it is good to do but because it is essential.
Nielsen has been taking a strategic review of its operations and it’s reported that you will be selling Nielsen. Where does that stand today?
I think what it’s really been is what is the right investment profile for the business. I would say we are talking to our investors to consider the mix of private/public investors so that we can grow to our full potential. It’s largely to get alignment between investors and the business strategy, and I think we’re quite far along. We said that we will come back with more on or before our 3Q earnings call.
So we won’t see a new owner for Nielsen?
It’s unlikely we will see a single strategic owner.
Which new media categories are you looking to measure?
We are looking at everything people are consuming. We are already measuring podcasts, digital video. The more important effort is to also get to a more common metric, so there is one truth about how many people have seen this content in paper form or on digital. Or, whether you happen to see a movie on television or on your phone. We want to measure everything. I would say getting into a total audience measurement and one media truth has been essential for the industry.
Aren’t you moving towards that with the help of Unilever, Google and Facebook?
We absolutely are moving towards that by establishing that currency in media markets and we’re certainly working on it here. We have the technology to measure total audience. We’re getting an agreement on that so that it can be used directly to trade. It is something the industry is working towards. The foundations are here: we’re measuring YouTube in dozens of countries already, we’re working with Facebook. So the pieces are there. Getting everyone to attempt the methodology is what we’re in the middle of right now.
What are you focusing on right now?
I am very focused on cybersecurity. You have to make sure someone just doesn’t change the data. So we are investing a lot in privacy. The families who really give us insights, we have to protect their privacy at all costs. And make sure that data is used only for research and no other purpose.