At least two groups of private equity firms are believed to be close to making bids to acquire VNU, which reportedly is helping them to provide due diligence in preparation for an offer. VNU has made no public comments on those talks, but the financial press has reported that the buy-out firms have until the end of January to make an offer in earnest.
"We reached out through some back channels to find out what VNU's interest would be to selling off some of its assets piecemeal, but we were told it's probably going to be sold to one party, and it will be done quickly," Maggio told MediaDailyNews hours after filing his second lawsuit against VNU's Nielsen Media Research unit (see related story). "Our strategy now is to sit back and see which private equity group gets it and then deal with them."
Maggio said he already has a valuation for the VNU assets he'd like to acquire - Nielsen Media Research, Nielsen's controlling stake in NetRatings, and Scarborough Research - and estimates its is in the $3.5 billion to $4.0 billion range. He did not say how he would raise financing to make such an acquisition, or what other companies he might be competing against should they come up for sale, but he did say he simultaneously is pursuing at least three other media research companies, and expects to finalize a deal soon to wrap up his acquisition of radio and outdoor measurement upstart Navigauge.
Maggio said his valuation of those assets were based on their contribution to the current share value of VNU, which he said is priced fairly and already has a takeover premium built into it. Ironically, he said much of Nielsen Media Research's current valuation has to do with the long-term "staggered" contracts it has signed with its clients, which are key part of the antitrust suit Maggio's erinMedia filed against Nielsen last year. He said one of his first orders of business should he acquire Nielsen would be to phase out those staggered contracts, and create more of an open market for TV ratings.
He said he would completely restructure Nielsen's organization and methods, making a "vastly superior" research product that wouldn't need to rely on such contracts to remain vital.
Long-term, Maggio said he plans to "aggregate" leading researchers in radio, outdoor, online and print audience measurement into one multimedia ratings giant, and that after "four or five years" would like to sell it back to the U.S. media and advertising industries to operate as a not-for-profit, industry-controlled concern, much the way ratings groups operate in other global markets.