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She Measures Up

NAME: Kelly Abcarian
TITLE: General Manager, Nielsen Advanced Video Advertising Group
COMPANY: Nielsen Corp.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Through her work at Nielsen, Abcarian has helped to mint the new currency of how advertising will be measured across all video content going forward. Her work on one-to-one marketing, collection of real-time data on viewership through automatic content recognition and creating the first cross-platform addressable ad solution, along with the notion of holistic campaign measurement through total ad ratings, are bold lines on a rich résumé.
QUOTABLE: “Any company that isn’t willing to disrupt themselves will be disrupted.”

Kelly Abcarian

Kelly Abcarian

If you were writing the uniquely American tale of the Nielsen Corp. as a screenplay — the story of an untouchable television industry monopoly that suddenly sees itself roiled by a sea of sweeping streaming change, only to regain its footing with newfound relevance while heading toward 100 years old — you’d get a lot of pushback for inventing a character as incomparably heroic as Kelly Abcarian.

And yet it’s all right there in the script. Abcarian pulled off the dynamic double of both working to increase the breadth of Nielsen’s measurement pool while forging new methods and partnerships to ensure all the numbers would be useful and transparent, setting the stage for something once thought mythical in this mad era: true collaboration. Now in her current role as general manager of the Nielsen Advanced Video Advertising Group, she’s worked at expanding audience measurement beyond linear TV into subscription video-on-demand (SVOD), which opened the dam to the onrush of information about consumption of digital content. Streaming service ratings for Nielsen customers is now a reality, with Abcarian beginning by partnering with Roku on research initiatives. Suddenly, Nielsen — which once toiled in a comparatively tiny measurement world — is operating in a universe of visibility, creativity and comparability among once-disparate numbers. Addressable TV advertising — bringing one-to-one targeting capabilities to smart TVs — is a reality with her name all over it. The same goes for holistic campaign measurement through total ad ratings. And keeping Nielsen current with acquisitions of Gracenote, Qterics and Sorenson Media has the company poised toward the worlds of, among other things, automatic content recognition (ACR) and its smoother real-time data collection. Now that’s what we call rolling the credits.

True Collaborator

Her industry colleagues don’t need to see this movie; their reviews are already in, and frankly, they’re spectacular.

“Advertising is crucial in our industry, but if we don’t have a better way for it to work and be measured, one of the key monetization engines falls apart and content will suffer … Kelly and Nielsen are the key players in ushering in the solutions,” said Tracey Scheppach, CEO and co-founder of ad agency Matter More Media. Adds Scott Rosenberg, Roku’s senior vice president and general manager of Platform Business. “Kelly was my business partner at Nielsen from day one. Most importantly she evangelized the deal internally despite it being a very new kind of deal for Nielsen.”

And Megan Clarken, who is the chief commercial officer for Nielsen Global Media and an important mentor for Abcarian, said: “Ten years ago, Kelly was at the forefront of the phenomenon of streaming video when it went from display advertising to streaming.”

Right place, right time has been a pattern through Abcarian’s career. Growing up in a small town outside Columbus, Ohio, she earned her accounting degree from the University of Dayton in 1998 and “three years later, I realized accounting wasn’t the career path for me,” she said. She then spent five years as a senior project manager at Silicon Valley customer relations management company Siebel Systems. “Their CEO, Tom Siebel, was really a visionary,” she said. “He was innovating in the industry and it taught me a lot about pushing myself and knowing that innovation is always out there .”

The perfect fit for her creative sensibility and determination came in 2005, when she joined Nielsen, “which was then an 85-year-old company at the epicenter of consumers, and I thought I could influence how Nielsen measured real people.”

Starting on the Connect or commercial side — “Not too many people worked across both sides” at the company, she said — she did some innovative work that attracted attention; moving to the Media side in 2010, she was asked to run the digital portfolio of products, and also began to earn her reputation for evaluating all the details and seeing the way around corners while others kept looking ahead with blinders on. And that’s when the tea leaves told her the way to go: “I thought, ‘We can begin writing the next narrative around how Nielsen starts to evolve measurement as technology and consumers continue to change so rapidly and quickly.’ ”

Fast-forward to the present, and that narrative is in the process of raising all boats in a storm-tossed content industry, with Abcarian keeping a watchful eye on the horizon.

“Advertisers are spending billions in order to understand how to reach consumers effectively and they need independent, transparent information,” she said. “Measurement is a team sport and everyone has to collaborate. We have deep partnerships across the biggest digital players. Keeping the data behind their closed doors doesn’t help the industry grow and prosper.

“When we launched online campaign ratings it was with a strategic partnership with Facebook,” she said. “That was something probably five years before Nielsen never would have considered doing. Nielsen’s come a very long way in the last decade, and at the end of the day, we can drive value across everyone to the ecosystem at large.”

As happy endings go, the industry would take it.