Harry Brisson is a Modern Data Explorer

For many of us, everyday use of cutting edge tech like virtual reality (VR) is still quite a way off in the future. But for Harry Brisson, exposure to these types of advancing technologies—and how consumers can and will engage with them—is all in a day’s work.

Harry’s work focuses on how technology like VR will be used when it matures and becomes more widely accessible to consumers. In many ways, Harry and the Nielsen Media Lab that he oversees shape the foundation for how consumers will use emerging technology. Debates about the future of media are popping up in app stores and on shelves faster than ever. Will the latest trending device become ubiquitous like the smartphone? Or will it be an accessory that only a select few will gravitate toward?

Putting Data and Technology Into Human Context

“When new technology comes out, it’s critical to understand how it fits into people’s lives in order to build a marketplace around it,” Harry says. “Virtual reality, for example, is still new and experimental. To fund content on a platform, businesses need to attract advertisers or consumers. The Media Lab helps emerging technology businesses identify a sustainable path forward so they can create experiences that delight consumers.”

“When new technology comes out, it’s critical to understand how it fits into people’s lives in order to build a marketplace around it.”

Harry explains that the Media Lab’s primary role is to simply put things into context. To do that, the lab convenes a large group of experts from across the research spectrum. But as critical as those associates are, the lab’s real edge comes from everyday people—who help inform Harry and his team about how up-and-coming technology might fit into our daily lives.

“At the lab in Las Vegas, we invite in people from all over,” he says. “It’s a great setting, and we can create environments that mimic real life to see how people react to new technology. For example, there’s a living room, where people can interact with each other and screens—a much more natural setting than if we had people isolated or sitting around an office table.”

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Those natural settings are critical in helping the researchers at the lab understand applications, advertising opportunities and use cases for an array of offerings across the media landscape. For these experiments, the team uses modern technology to answer questions about how consumers respond to media types that have been around for decades. For example, the team uses eye-tracking VR technology to assess how people engage with (or don’t engage with) out-of-home advertising like billboards.

Curiosity is the Core of Good Research

Harry explains that the lab is also focused on testing audience engagement with newer media types like podcasts. Over the past few years, podcasts have been steadily growing in popularity, and publishers are increasingly exploring ways to monetize them as consumer interest in them rises.

“Podcasts are a hotbed for experimentation,” Harry says. “Because of the relatively low cost of entry, the pace of innovation can be quite fast. The lab helps podcasters understand how how novel content types and ad formats engage listeners.”

It’s Harry’s interest in evolving technology and personal curiosity that are helping to drive his research and enabling it to serve as a gateway to answering fundamental questions about human behavior.

“We’re laying a data foundation from which creators can build businesses...Knowledge is incredibly valuable, and that’s a testament to Nielsen’s value over time.”

“We’re laying a data foundation upon which creators can build businesses,” he says. “Nielsen has one of the largest collections of curious people I’ve ever worked with. Yes, they want to inform the marketplace, but they’re also deeply inquisitive by nature, venturing into the unknown in pursuit of knowledge. This kind of knowledge is incredibly valuable to the marketplace, which is why Nielsen has played a pivotal role in many marketplaces for nearly a century.”

Modern Day Explorers

Harry says he very much likes to journey off the beaten path in search of understanding the unknown. And he compares his work at Nielsen to being a modern-day explorer, much like explorers thousands of years ago who would venture off to unknown places. But instead of mapping the world, he’s mapping the human experience.

Harry Brisson

“Our very existence is predicated on being a truth teller,” he says of Nielsen. “Markets perform better when they have reliable and accurate information to work with. From our founding, Nielsen has provided information that enables markets to better serve their participants.

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“Without quality information on performance, markets, businesses and even individuals lack a clear mechanism for self-improvement; the scientific method is radical tool that debunks wrongful assumptions, challenges the status quo and enables us to make tomorrow better than today. Those working in developed information ecosystems can occasionally take it for granted, but working in uncharted territory gives one an even greater appreciation for what quality information enables.”

“Markets perform better when they have reliable and accurate information to work with. From our founding, Nielsen has provided information that enables markets to better serve their participants.”

And Harry, a self-proclaimed part-time contrarian, likes challenging the status quo—pushing people outside of their comfort zones. He also believes that all questions can be answered with data and research. And that’s where the Nielsen Media Lab comes in.

“I like to say that the lab is the last defense against ignorance,” he says with a laugh. “But jokes aside, no question is unanswerable, and we’re always excited to find new ways to handle the toughest questions that existing solutions don’t answer. Each new answer builds toward a world where creators have all the information they need to sustainably create content for new platforms that audiences will love, and that’s a mission I’m inspired to pursue every day, one question at a time.”