Nielsen may once again be a private company, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported yesterday that a consortium led by activist investment fund Elliott Management is in advanced talks to buy the company. But such a move would unlikely make much of a difference in Nielsen’s ongoing battle to remain the dominant player in U.S. media measurement amid uncertainties around the rollout of its next-generation Nielsen One platform.
The talks could be driven by an assessment that investors are undervaluing the product's promise. They come just after a key executive on Nielsen One left for Meta.
Nielsen was privately held for about 10 years before a 2011 initial public offering, and it's been criticized in the industry before and since for not moving fast enough to improve measurement of an increasingly complex TV and broader media market.
Elliott was already a major Nielsen stockholder with board representation since April 2020, after it pushed for divestiture of the retail measurement and analytics firm NielsenIQ, which was completed last year.
Following that deal, cash to invest in Nielsen One doesn’t appear to be a problem. On Feb. 28, Nielsen announced it would buy back up to $1 billion of its stock, which had been falling since May.
News of Elliott’s interest sent Nielsen stock soaring more than 30% on Monday afternoon, but it still closed more than 15% below where it stood in May, before disclosure of problems with undercounting TV audiences during the pandemic. Those issues led to Nielsen losing its Media Rating Council accreditation in September. Nielsen is still trading more than 50% below an all-time high reached in 2016.
Truist Securities in a note on Monday said Nielsen’s stock price indicates the market is predicting a 66% chance of the deal getting done. It also said the move was welcome news given uncertainties about meeting the schedule for Nielsen One, marketplace reaction to the rollout, and growing willingness of agencies and brands to consider Nielsen alternatives.