Chief Executive Officer of Nielsen Media Research
Born August 1, 1956, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Lawrence H. Whiting Jr. (an aviation entrepreneur); married Stephen J. Brogan (a management consultant), July 2, 1988 (divorced). Education: Denison University, B.A. (cum laude), 1978.
Addresses: Office—Nielsen Company, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003-9595.
A.C. Nielsen Co., Chicago, management trainee, 1978–79; Nielsen Media Research, New York City, began as member, became manager then and director of the new business development unit, 1980–85; Nielsen Home Video Index, vice president and marketing manager, 1986–93, senior vice president and director of marketing, 1993–97; Nielsen Media Research, general manager of National Services and Emerging Markets, 1997–2001; Nielsen Media Research, president, 2001–, and chief operating officer, 2001–02, chief executive officer, January 2002–; VNU (later renamed the Nielsen Company), Media Measurement and Information, president and chief executive officer, 2005–07; The Nielsen Company, executive vice president and chair, Nielsen Media Research, January 2007–.
Susan Whiting serves as chief executive officer and chair of Nielsen Media Research, a multi-faceted company best known as the influential compiler of television ratings statistics. Described as "television's chief umpire" by USA Today media reporter David Lieberman, Whiting has been with the company since she entered the workforce after college. "I was just extraordinarily fortunate to end up in a company in that first job where there was a nice connection between what I wanted to do and what they needed me to do," she said of her longevity at Nielsen in an interview with Linda Moss for Multichannel News.
Whiting was born in Chicago in 1956, and grew up in Wisconsin, where her father owned an air courier business. "We had an airstrip and two planes in our backyard," she told Steve McClellan in Broadcasting & Cable, which were useful when her father later founded a crop-dusting equipment manufacturing company. At Denison University in Granville, Ohio, she studied economics, and soon after her 1978 graduation began her career with the A.C. Nielsen Company of Chicago as a management trainee. Nielsen was a family-owned company at the time, founded in 1923 by Arthur C. Nielsen as a consumer-research organization. It ventured into television ratings in the earliest years of the medium, tracking viewers' watching habits as a way to gauge the potential market for advertisers. Over the years the company became the de facto leader in calculating ratings for the television networks and their programming.
Whiting began at Nielsen just as the company was venturing into the measurement of cable-television audiences. In 1980, she joined its new business development unit, and was heading that department within a few years. She advanced to the position of vice president and marketing manager with Nielsen Home Video Index in 1986, and then became senior vice president and director of marketing for it in 1993. In 1996, the A.C. Nielsen Company spun off its Nielsen Media Research into a stand-alone entity, and a year later Whiting was appointed general manager of its National Services and Emerging Markets at Nielsen Media Research. She became president and chief operating officer of Nielsen Media Research in 2001, and a year later rose to the top job at the company, that of chief executive officer. By this point both Nielsen Media Research and the Nielsen Company itself were a subsidiaries of VNU, a Dutch holding company for various media properties.
Nielsen Media Research, based in New York City, is one of the most influential companies in the entertainment business, serving as the gatekeeper to an estimated $70 billion business in advertising revenues for the broadcast and cable networks. Nielsen tallies television audiences via diaries issued to a sampling of U.S. households, and also uses an array of electronic-measurement devices. Nielsen ratings—technically known as "audience estimates"—calculate how many Americans are watching a television show, and the fortunes of entire networks rise and fall depending on the numbers. They are a significant factor in revenue for the networks, since ratings numbers dictate how much a network can charge for advertising time. Originally, the Nielsen families submitted forms filled out by viewers four times a year, and those periods became known as the sweeps weeks. In the late 1980s, the company began installing "people meters" on television sets of Nielsen households, which transmitted viewing habits back to headquarters for tallying. This was combined with a hand-held device, a portable people meter, which determined what individual household members were watching. The "overnights," or morning-after tallies of viewers for television episodes, are often the first documents of the day that television executives examine, sometimes as soon as they rise out of bed.
In 2005, Whiting became president and chief executive officer of VNU's Media Measurement and Information, but a year later a group of private investors bought VNU and the entire property became known as the Nielsen Company once again. Whiting's title after that was executive vice president of The Nielsen Company and chair of Nielsen Media Research after January of 2007. Her realm includes all divisions that monitor television audiences, Internet usage, feature-film box-office receipts, and sales of recorded music and books. She described her job to Lieberman in USA Today as "a combination of trying to lead a company in change in an industry in change. It's much more complicated than people think." Asked about Nielsen's future direction, she mentioned its Project Apollo, which would track "what media were you exposed to and therefore what products you bought," in an interview with Coco Masters in Time. This would be gauged when "people scan all their product purchases and also have a [portable people meter] that keeps track of what media they're exposed to."
Whiting has spent her entire career with the same company, making her one of the rare twenty-first century corporate titans with such an endurance record. She credited her rise to the help of some wise mentors over the years. "One of the pieces of advice I got was to make sure that whomever you are working for actually knows what you've accomplished," she said in the interview with USA Today's Lieberman. "Don't assume that they know, or that the people above them know. But you've got to do that in a way that you're comfortable with. I'm not a very in-your-face kind of person." She described her own management style as an individual-oriented approach. "I like to talk to people, to get a lot of information, process it, and come out with a position," she told Lieberman. "I like to think you can be smart and nice."
Broadcasting & Cable, September 1, 2003, p. 13; May 31, 2004, p. 2.
Multichannel News, January 27, 2003, p. 26B.
New York Times, June 18, 2005.
Time, February 13, 2006, p. A18.
USA Today, March 27, 2006, p. 3B.
"Susan D. Whiting," Nielsen.com, http://www.nielsen.com/about/whiting.html (May 9, 2007).