Nielsen Chief: We Have No Plans To Expand Media Portfolio, May Divest Some

Nielsen Co., the global research behemoth that has adopted an "anywhere/anytime" strategy for media research, apparently doesn't want to dominate just any media. Nielsen, which currently dominates TV, online and mobile media measurement, does not plan to muscle its way into other traditional media like radio, magazines or newspapers, its chief executives said Wednesday during a first quarter earnings call with securities analysts. In fact, Nielsen may be looking to reduce its position in another form of traditional media: The business press. During the call, CEO David Calhoun said, "You will see a few smaller divestitures out of the business media portfolio."

Calhoun was referring to Nielsen Business Media, the publishing division that has become the earnings laggard within Nielsen Co., and the one that some observers expect to be the most logical, non-strategic asset to be spun off as Nielsen concentrates its energies and resources on the global research marketplace.

According to Nielsen's first quarter earnings release, the business media unit had zero growth during the quarter and fell to 10% of the company's total revenues, while both its other divisions - consumer research operations like ACNielsen and media research like Nielsen's media ratings - rose at double digits.



Total company revenues climbed 13.3% to $1.214 billion during the quarter, led by the consumer research division's 15.9% rise to $680 million, and the media research unit's 13.8% increase to $414 million.

The media research division's growth was accelerated by its acquisition of mobile media research company Telephia, which contribute about four percentage points of the division's total growth, and about 1 percentage point of Nielsen Co.'s growth during the quarter.

The business media unit, which includes such high profile publications as Adweek, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, was flat at $122 million.

Calhoun implied that future divestures would be among smaller publishing properties, and ones that don't have equal strength in their print, digital and events related businesses.

"If it doesn't have those three attributes, we're likely to get out," he said, adding, "You might see some of those, but we really don't have a playbook to get out of anything big and fundamental."

Asked if Nielsen might be eying a position in radio, or the measurement of other media following the termination of its Project Apollo venture with Arbitron, Calhoun said, "For right now, I'm content with the screens that we have and the various media that we cover." He was referring to TV, online and mobile media, of course. And no wonder why. According to the quarterly earnings report, traditional media measurement revenues jumped 14.8%, while online revenues soared 29.4%.

While radio may seem like a logical extension for Nielsen Co., you could almost hear executives at Mediamark Research Inc. breath a sigh of relief when Calhoun uttered those remarks. MRI dominates magazine audience measurement, and is currently facing a magazine industry request for proposals for a new audience measurement system from other suppliers. The initiative, which is being organized by the Magazine Publishers of America, is at various committee levels right now, but is expected to accelerate this summer.

While Calhoun didn't specifically address out-of-home media, Nielsen has been plugging away with an outdoor media measurement service despite the out-of-home industry's own parallel initiative, and a few weeks ago, Nielsen executives unveiled a slew of new digital out-of-home network research reports that will be released between now and this fall.

Asked about the current "consolidation" activity taking place in the global research business - an allusion to TNS' merger with Gfk, and WPP Group's attempts to muscle into that - Calhoun demurred, implying that Nielsen has not attempted to step into the bidding frenzy. "I don't comment on that stuff," he said.

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