There is a shake-up at the top of Nielsen as the company grapples with a fast-changing measurement world and strengthening competition. Karthik Rao, a longtime Nielsen exec, has been appointed CEO, succeeding David Kenny, who has served as CEO since 2018.
Kenny has been named Executive Chairman at the measurement giant.
Since early 2023, Rao has served as CEO of Nielsen’s Audience Measurement business. Before that he was Nielsen’s Chief Operating Officer.
“Nielsen has been my home for most of my career, and I could not be more excited for this new opportunity,” Rao said in a news release. “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. I am fortunate to work alongside the best in the business, around the world, as we address unprecedented times of transition in our business. Together with our talented employees, I look forward to positioning Nielsen for the next century and beyond.”
In a statement Kenny called it “an exciting day” for Nielsen and for him. “I have been fortunate to lead this company through some extraordinary times in the past five years, working alongside Karthik for much of it,” Kenny said. “As I transition to my new role and my operating responsibilities come to an end, I hand over leadership to someone with extensive experience in knowing what Nielsen does best, backed by the skills and understanding to position the company for a vibrant future. He has my complete support and I wish him, and everyone at Nielsen, nothing but tremendous success.”
Rao was appointed CEO of Nielsen’s Audience Measurement business in early 2023, tasked with enabling a currency across all media distribution and consumption models globally. Before that he was the company’s Chief Operating Officer. Rao earlier served as the CEO of Nielsen Portfolio, leading the fully independent division comprising Nielsen Entertainment, Nielsen Gracenote, Nielsen Brandbank, and the Nielsen Telecom businesses across all global markets.
Last October, Nielsen was acquired by Evergreen Coast Capital Corp., an affiliate of Elliott Investment Management, and Brookfield Business Partners, along with other private equity partners. The all-cash transaction was valued at $16 billion, including the assumption of debt.
David Kerko, Head of Private Equity at Elliott, said the investment group has seen “great progress already,” and thanked Kenny for his contributions to that success. “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,” Kerko said. “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.”
Last week, Nielsen announced a massive round of layoffs to reduce its global workforce by about 9%. It was the company’s second reduction in force this year under its new private equity owners.
A top focus for Nielsen has been its new TV and cross-platform measurement service and Rao is now tasked with winning MRC accreditation for the service. Rao told The Wall Street Journal that the necessary audits are complete and that Nielsen is responding to feedback from the MRC. “This is not easy stuff and nobody else puts in the time and effort,” Rao said.