Nielsen sale won’t change industry perception

Campaign Savvy wordmark with headshot of Campaign US editor Alison Weissbrot

Despite new ownership, the measurement provider still has a lot to prove to its customers as they test alternatives at this year’s upfront.

After a tough year of being stripped of its Media Rating Council accreditation and losing its foothold as the U.S. TV market’s de facto currency, Nielsen is going private.

The measurement firm said yesterday (Tuesday) that it has agreed to be purchased by a consortium of private equity firms led by Evergreen Coast Capital for $16 billion, after rejecting a similar takeover bid from the group for $9 billion earlier this month.

Evergreen Coast’s decision to up the bid could be viewed as a sign of confidence that Nielsen is best positioned to maintain its status as the go-to measurement and currency provider for the U.S. TV marketplace. After all, Nielsen is hard at work developing NielsenOne, its revamped cross-platform currency. And while other providers are nipping at its heels, it still has more than half a century of incumbency under its belt.

But the industry that has been so reliant on Nielsen for so long is showing signs that it’s ready to move on. Ever since news broke that Nielsen undercounted household viewership during the pandemic last year, the industry’s fraying confidence in the measurement company has begun to tear – and important players are starting to move on.

As I wrote last week, networks and media buyers alike are looking for more sophisticated measurement tools that rely on advanced data as opposed to panels.

NBCUniversal is using iSpot.TV to transact during the 2022 upfront after a successful trial measuring Super Bowl LVI and the Beijing Winter Olympics. The network has certified eight additional measurement partners including Comscore, Conviva and FreeWheel – but not Neilsen. If that’s not telling enough, ex-Nielsen exec Kelly Abcarian is running the media giant’s new advanced measurement strategy.

Disney, ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia are also testing with new partners, and every day it seems there is a new vendor with sophisticated solutions ready to jump into Nielsen’s place.

In a rare display of solidarity, the buy side and the sell side are on the same side of this issue. Big TV buying firms have been planning their upfront buys on advanced audiences for years and are now eager to transact, testing with new vendors and facilitating network clean room integrations that weren’t previously available.

As the industry tests new ways to transact and measure in 2022, Nielsen is working towards a goal of 2024 to roll out its new currency to the marketplace. Who’s to say how much innovation will happen from now until then?

Perhaps a reprieve from the scrutiny of the public markets will give Nielsen the cloud cover it needs to double down on its plans for the future and make a significant investment in new measurement technology. But if PE owners are known for anything, it’s cutting costs to raise profits and resell the company or take it public again at a higher valuation. It's worth mentioning that Evergreen Coast is a subsidiary of Elliott Management, which is well-known for employing activist investment strategies.

Then there’s the transition (turmoil?) that comes with moving under new management with new priorities, which Nielsen will have to manage while working furiously toward its 2024 goal.

Who’s to say what the focus will be under Nielsen’s new ownership. According to a statement from Evergreen Coast and Elliot Management, the companies believe “our multibillion-dollar investment will help Nielsen reinforce its transformation at this critical inflection point.”

But will the industry have moved on to greener pastures by then and gotten comfortable with new providers? Have we moved on from a world where there’s only one currency provider to rule them all?

This year’s upfront will be the big experiment.

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