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Nielsen Forms Addressable TV Ad Group After Buying Sorenson Media’s Assets for $11.25 Million

Nielsen thinks it has the pieces in place to finally drive up the scale of addressable TV advertising, targeted based on a television household’s profile the way internet ads have been served for years.

The media-measurement firm has formed Nielsen Advanced Video Advertising, a new group focusing on developing addressable advertising initially for internet-connected smart TVs.

To fill what it says was a missing link in its portfolio, Nielsen last week acquired Sorenson Media, an addressable TV technology provider, in a bankruptcy-court proceeding with a winning $11.25 million bid. Sorenson had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization last fall, citing an “onerous” addressable-advertising contract with Sinclair Broadcasting that would have forced Sorenson to pay more than $100 million over the life of the deal.

Now Nielsen claims it has all the components to build an “end-to-end, AI-optimized platform” for targeted TV ads that encompasses delivery, data-driven targeting, unified campaign management, and measurement.

“What we’re focused on is bringing a unified addressable-advertising road map to the marketplace, and to get collaboration and feedback around that,” said Kelly Abcarian (pictured above), newly named GM of Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising Group. She previously was senior VP of product leadership at the company.

For years, the TV biz has coveted the targeted, dynamic capabilities offered by internet advertising to be able to swap out static commercials in live TV with one-to-one spots on the fly. While individual operators like Comcast, DirecTV and Dish have offered addressable ads in their own footprints, there hasn’t been an industry-wide solution.

Nielsen is now positioned to crack the code, Abcarian said. In addition to the enabling technology, the company says it will integrate its existing C3/C7 linear TV measurement standards with measurement of addressable TV ads in a transparent way. “Measurement is key,” Abcarian said. “There’s not a question about the technology’s ability to execute addressable. It’s about how to create the data sets underlying both linear and addressable, and how to solve for measurement that is reflective of the way ads are sold.”

Sorenson Media had actually launched addressable ads, delivered on Samsung smart TVs in inventory on local affiliates of Sinclair and Hearst Television. Now Nielsen plans to take Sorenson’s tech stack, which includes ad decisioning and yield management, and combine it with other pieces it has acquired over the years.

Nielsen obtained automatic content recognition (ACR) technology through its acquisition of metadata provider Gracenote, and acquired Qterics, a smart TV software and privacy management vendor. Gracenote’s ACR technology allows for real-time, frame-level detection of ads independent of source (i.e., through either a pay-TV operator or via over-the-air broadcast). Last year, Nielsen inked a pact with chip maker MediaTek, which claims to power 50% of the smart TVs in the market, to integrate the ACR tech into its silicon.

On the near horizon, Nielsen’s next step is to absorb the Sorenson technology and employees into its advanced-advertising group. In the auction for Sorenson’s assets, Nielsen beat out a competing bid by Sorenson founder and Chairman Jim Sorenson. Sorenson has fewer than 100 employees who will be joining Nielsen.

Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising Group builds on more than five years of work by the company to deliver on the promise of addressable ads at scale, according to Abcarian. “We’ll be looking to work across the industry to simplify how they buy audiences on television. We look at this as a collaborative approach,” she said. Abcarian also noted that Nielsen doesn’t sell any ad inventory itself, so it’s able to be a neutral third-party in the ecosystem.

Among its efforts to date in this space, Nielsen launched a five-market addressable TV pilot late last year with CBS, A+E Networks and other programmers across smart TVs in a few hundred U.S. homes. The goal of the trial, which is ongoing, is to gauge consumer feedback (and, for example, to iron out any technical glitches in stitching dynamic ads into live TV) and to understand how to reflect measurement in the media workflow, Abcarian said.

But exactly when Nielsen will deliver a complete addressable ad solution remains undetermined — and whether TV networks, agencies and marketers buy into its vision is an open question. For the company, the stepped-up push into addressable TV ads will be a test of the company’s strategic direction under recently appointed CEO David Kenny, who previously was head of IBM’s artificial-intelligence business unit.

“It’s clear that a significant portion of TV advertising will be addressable long into the future,” Kenny said in a statement. The Sorenson Media acquisition, he added, will let Nielsen “create improved value and efficiency across the entire media chain.”

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