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Advertising Week 2019: Truth and Representation Matter in Media

6 minute read | September 2019

Last week, Nielsen executives took center-stage during Advertising Week—the annual conference where celebrities, innovators, marketers and media executives come together to discuss the future of advertising. Our leaders shared their perspectives throughout various sessions on the power of data and information, the future of TV, the importance of taking a stand for what’s right and Nielsen’s role in serving as the source of truth for the media industry. 

In today’s world of big data and information overload, businesses need to be sure they have the most complete and reliable information. What happens if data is incomplete and unreliable? It can cause costly mistakes when businesses are innovating, building next-gen products and creating new markets. It’s more important than ever to have a view of consumer segments that’s inclusive and representative.  

“We can’t win in our mission of being one media truth, unless that truth represents everyone, everywhere,” said David Kenny, CEO and Chief Diversity Officer at Nielsen during his opening remarks for Nielsen’s session at Advertising Week, Beyond the Lens: The Bottom Line Impact of Media Representation. “We have to have a truly representative workforce, products that measure all consumers and we must have a stand in the marketplace that represents everyone.”

It’s imperative for media companies to include people from all walks of life in their efforts toward true representation. In addition to racial and ethnic diversity, representation in media must also include same gender couples, women, children, elders and people with disabilities both on and off the screen, as well as in Nielsen’s measurement.

In the beginning of the week, Megan Clarken, Chief Commercial Officer, Nielsen Global Media, kicked off the discussion on the importance of diversity and inclusion in media, especially when it comes to women, at an event hosted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The institute, which advocates for gender parity in the media industry, presented television insights from its GD-IQ machine learning tool for the first time and held a panel discussion that featured prominent children’s TV industry executives. Before the panelists shared their stories on how to best address representation and why it’s a crucial component to success, Clarken shared her perspective on why more women need to be on screen. 

“The moving image is powerful, and with it comes the great upside of entertainment, educational programming, information and, if treated correctly, empowerment,” said Clarken. “But the latter relies on parity in regard to representation. It relies on having strong roles for strong female actors, young or old.”

The following day at Advertising Week, Clarken moderated a star-studded panel on the impact that media representation has on consumers, brands and businesses. The panel of leading and influential women included Madeline Di Nonno, CEO, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO & President, GLAAD, Christina Norman, Media Advisor, and Alyssa Naeher, Goalkeeper, U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team & the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League. 

The panel kicked off with a discussion around the on-screen representation of female characters among children’s content. Over the past decade, the percentage of female characters on children’s television grew significantly, and according to the Geena Davis Institute, female characters are on screen 55.3% of the time and are speaking 50%. This is a major milestone and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

“This is historic…For the first time in history, we have actually achieved parity when it comes to female characters in children’s television,” said Di Nonno. 

The discussion then shifted to focus on the progress made over the years to not only portray LGBTQ families on screen, but also to ensure they are counted and represented in national TV ratings. Last year, Nielsen announced that it had worked with GLAAD to ensure same gender spouses/partners and homes were included as part of the ratings that Nielsen reports. Including same gender spouses and homes gives marketers and media companies a better view into the media habits of LGBTQ consumers and their preferences. 

As an example, Kenny pointed to the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC during the panel introduction. While the show typically ranks within the top 10 cable network programs among all U.S. households each week, it regularly ranks No. 1 as a prime cable program among same gender households. “That’s really important because the pink dollar is really powerful and oftentimes is 2x or 3x its counterpart when it comes to spending power,” said Ellis. “When you are looking to buy spending power [media inventory], you may look at Rachel differently and put more money against an LGBTQ show than another show.” 

Organizations like the Geena Davis Institute and GLAAD are using the power of data to help drive accountability and representation on screen. They are making the argument by leveraging metrics and insights to point to audience composition, viewing trends and engagement as a driver to increase female and LGBTQ representation in content. However, there’s also work that needs to be done to ensure that there is representation off screen and among the media companies’ executive ranks.  

“When you [a network] introduce new programs that celebrate the audience, they can see themselves in it, and it’s reflective in ratings and in the audience that the network attracts now,” said Norman. “It really is about working on both sides—yes, bringing in creators, yes, bringing in the right kind of new content, making sure the stories are reflective of the world that we live in. But it’s also really about making sure that the executives making those decisions have that lived reality as well.”

Representation, inclusion and pay parity are not just challenges faced by the media industry or in business; they’re also a sad and harsh reality that female athletes encounter each and every day. The issue of pay inequality between men and women was a hot topic earlier this year, and it reached a boiling point when the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team won it’s fourth FIFA World Cup in 28 years and shined a light to the huge pay disparity compared to the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team. The issue has now transcended the locker rooms, and brands and businesses have become increasingly vocal regarding the need to achieve equal pay across all segments of society. 

“A lot of progress has been made over the years if you go back to where women in sports started. I think there is still a very large gap that needs to continue to be closed. These are the discussions that need to happen, and bringing awareness to it is the first step in the process. I think the awareness has been raised and people are talking about it. Step two is what can be done about it, what steps can be taken across all sports,” said Naeher. “The torch has been passed. It’s now our responsibility as a team, as players and as individuals to continue to have the conversations.”

Similarly, as the standard bearer of truth for the media industry, it is our job to bring to light the tough conversations, help shape the narrative and provide the data that enable the measurement and representation of all consumer segments. Nielsen doesn’t take this responsibility lightly, and we continue to engage with our clients, industry partners, civic organizations and government to ensure that trust and transparency in media are the beacons that guide this industry forward. 

“We stand to create one truth for you to understand media, and that truth needs to be everyone’s truth,” said Kenny.