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6 Questions with Nikesh Patel, Nielsen

Nielsen is joining Unified ID 2.0, an industry-wide initiative to replace cookies and advance the value of the open internet.

Nielsen, the gold standard in media data and measurement, believes a common approach to metrics across all media platforms is an important foundation for the future of the industry. The company pioneered industry-standard methodologies for gauging what people are watching on linear television. With the rise of connected TV and streaming platforms, Nielsen wants to avoid a fragmented media landscape by supporting Unified ID 2.0, an industry-wide initiative to replace cookies with a better identity solution that preserves the value of the open internet, while improving consumer control.

We spoke with Nikesh Patel, SVP and head of digital product at Nielsen, about the importance of this collaboration, de-mystifying the internet for consumers, and finding common ground to build an open internet for all.

Why is Unified ID 2.0 so important at this particular time?
With quarantine and Covid-19, there's been tremendous growth in people watching streaming media. It’s a ripe opportunity for buyers and sellers to come together to take advantage of more attention trained on addressable media. For that reason alone, UID is really important. There are the more obvious reasons, such as the impending impact to cookies and more recent headwinds around mobile ad IDs, but the technical aspects of solving for identity really aren't the hardest part. The hardest part is finding the common ground. We're at a point where the industry has never been forced to collaborate on building the future, because in many ways, we’ve had it for free. I think that's actually the most beneficial part of this: it's going to force the industry to think collectively about how to build a resilient ecosystem for personalization and measurement that respects and stewards consumer privacy.

What's at stake if the industry doesn't align around a common approach to this idea of the open ecosystem?
It leads to more fragmentation. If you think from an advertiser’s perspective for a moment, the more time you’re forced to focus on bridging data silos between walled gardens and programmatic inventory, or managing frequency between social and CTV, the less attention you dedicate to building great products or creating compelling ad messaging. The same thing is true for publishers. I want publishers to focus on making really amazing content. I don't want them to focus on [questions like] how do I have to stitch together IDs and different metrics just so I can sell my inventory fairly? If we don’t find a common solution here, the fact is we're not going to have people in the industry focusing on what they're good at.

How will adoption of this solution create a stronger environment for improving the way you do your work and you report data?
Nothing beats high-quality signals and clean data. A marketplace built on true, observed behavior of audiences benefits everybody. It allows advertisers a lot more confidence in the metrics that they're transacting on. And it also allows companies like Nielsen to focus on solving tomorrow's problems, not yesterday's problems. I don’t want to dwell on questions like ‘how do measurement products survive the death of cookies and the emerging gaps in mobile?’ Instead I want to be focusing on ‘how can I invent the next generation of metrics for advertisers to use for holding media more accountable?’ I want my teams to focus there, not on reinventing the past.

Decades ago, Nielsen pioneered a common approach to audience measurement and currency in the TV ecosystem. Back then, we saw all ships rise with a common approach; I think all ships will also rise if we have a unified approach to identity.

What does this UID approach mean for the future of cross-channel measurement?
One of the benefits of Unified ID is that I can get to a world where I have a common identifier for my audience across all channels. I can measure and manage things like frequency holistically and optimize as a single collective unit - that’s the tangible benefit.

How does the UID solution provide more control for the consumer?
Giving consumers an easier way to understand how this industry works will help build trust. Over the past 18 to 24 months, we’ve seen a clear rise in consumer awareness of how their data is being stewarded; fundamentally consumers want more control and more transparency. One of the strengths of Unified ID is a common, easy to understand consumer-facing form for transparency and control. A solution that makes sense to the everyday person can help people realize that this isn’t such a mysterious activity.

Finally, what do you think are the challenges when it comes to establishing an internet wide approach to unified ID?
I think it’s going to take a mental pivot for some parts of the ecosystem to accept. I think the other thing, too, is that the privacy regulatory landscape is obviously in flux and moving very fast. But it's not just driven by regulators, but by platforms and technology companies. I think that the important thing here is for common ground to be reached. It doesn't have to be the perfect solution from day one. It just needs to be a foundation on which we can build.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.