Several private firms still interested in buying Nielsen as sale process drags on

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Michael Short | Bloomberg via Getty Images
David Kenny

Nielsen, the media research firm famous for its TV ratings, is still contemplating an outright sale, fueled by continued private equity interest, according to people familiar with the matter.

Spokespeople for Advent and Nielsen declined to comment. A spokesman for Apollo couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Activist hedge fund Elliott Management, which has an 8.4 percent in the company, has pushed Nielsen to find a buyer. Nielsen said in September that it was working with investment banks JPMorgan Chase and Guggenheim Securities, as well as law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on an “expanded” review of strategic alternatives, including a sale of the company.

Nielsen began holding management presentations for potential buyers in January after naming David Kenny as its new CEO, people familiar with the matter told CNBC in December. While both Blackstone Group and Bain Capital had met with the company and considered an acquisition, neither is still involved in the process, said people familiar with the matter.

“The Nielsen Board of Directors continues to move ahead with its strategic review, which includes a broad range of options, including continuing to operate as a public, independent company; a separation of either Nielsen’s Media or Connect segment; or a sale of the company,” Nielsen said in a statement. “There can be no assurance that this review will result in a specific transaction or other alternative. The company will provide updates on the review when it determines that further disclosure is appropriate or required.”

Kenny joined Nielsen after serving as the head of IBM’s Watson AI platform and portfolio business. He was also formerly chairman and CEO of the Weather Company, a portion of which he sold to IBM. His hiring piqued the interest of several private equity firms because of his background with leverage buyouts, according to two people familiar with the matter. Kenny spent a decade at Bain from 1987 to 1997.

Nielsen shares have slumped in recent years as revenue growth has stalled. 2018 revenue fell about 1% from 2017. The company’s “Watch” segment, which includes TV ratings, has been more successful than its “Buy” segment, which provides marketing information about what people buy on a global basis. While Watch revenue in the fourth quarter of 2018 decreased 3.5% to $881 million, Buy sales declined 8.4% to $777 million, which Nielsen blamed on decreased spending and demand from large multinational corporations.

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