42. Nielsen Holdings plc

Revenues 2020: $ 6.290 billion (€ 5.500 billion)




The Nielsen Company, initially known as the VNU Group, is a global provider of market and media data, also offering publications, online services and event hosting of fairs and conferences in the business-to-business division. The most famous brands of the Nielsen Company are the market research giant ACNielsen and the media research company Nielsen Media Research. Furthermore, Nielsen includes the Internet statistics service Nielsen//NetRatings, the marketing service provider Claritas and the Scarborough Research, which focusses on gathering socio-demographic data (amongst others). The Nielsen Company has been in the hand of private owners since the acquisition through the Valcon Acquisition finance investor group.

General Information



The Netherlands:
Nielsen Holding N.V.
Diemerhof 2
1112 XL Diemen
Telephone:0031- 020  -398 87 77
Fax: 0031-020-690 31 75                     
Internet: www.nielsen.com

The Nielsen Company
770 Broadway
New York, NY 10003-9595                                                                                     
Telephone:  001-646-654 5000
Fax: 001-646-654-5002
E-mail: contact(a)nielsen.com

The Nielsen Company (Germany) GmbH
Insterburger Str. 16
60487 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 69 7938-0       
Fax: +49 69 70740-12

Nielsen Media Research GmbH
Sachsenstrasse 16
20097 Hamburg
Telephone: +49(0) 40 / 23642 – 0
Fax: +49(0) 40 / 23642 - 122

Table I: Economic Performance 2008-2015 ($ Mio.)


Profit (Loss)¹81657538473627386153(428)(314)

¹Net Income

Executives and Directors



  • Mitch Barns, Chief Executive Officer
  • Jamere Jackson, Chief Financial Officer
  • Steve Hasker, Global President and Chief Operating Officer
  • Eric Dale, Chief Legal Officer
  • John Tavolieri, Chief Technology and Operations Officer
  • Nancy Phillips, Chief Human Resource Officer


Board of Directors:

  • James A. Attwood, Jr.,The Carlyle Group
  • Mitch Barns, Nielsen
  • Karen M. Hoguet, Macy's Inc.
  • Lauren Zalaznick, NBC Universal
  • Robert C. Pozen, MFS Investment Management
  • Javier G. Teruel, Colgate-Palmolive Company
  • Harish Manwani, Unilever
  • David Rawlinson, Grainger



The Nielsen Company is a global information and media provider. Initially, the company had been called VNU group, an acronym for 'Verenigde Nederlandse Uitgeversbedrijven' (United Dutch publishers)

The roots of the company are located in Haarlem in the Netherlands, also 90 percent of the revenue are generated abroad as of today. VNU was the result of a merger between the two largest Dutch publishing houses and consumer magazines 'Cebema' and 'De Spaarnestad' in 1964. During the 1960s and the 1970s, the company expanded mainly by taking over further publishers and printing offices in the Netherlands. In 1967, the company acquired the Het Nieuwsblad van het Zuiden newspaper publisher as well as the catholic book publisher Het Spectrum. Following the take over through VNU, Het Spectrum shifted its activities from religious publications to Dutch translations of international famous best-selling authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and Somerset Maugham. In 1968, the magazine publisher Nederlandse Rotogravure Maatschaapij (NRM) and the offset printing office Smeets were integrated into the company. When the special interest publisher for economy magazines – Intermediar – and Diligentia were published in 1973 and 1975 respectively, the company began its reorientation on economy and trading publications.

In 1985, the company bought the US-information service Disclosure and used it as the basis on which it could build up its activities on the North American market. The strong engagement in the USA had been marked by heavy losses in the initial phase. A publisher of computer magazines, Hayden Publishing, was sold only a few years it had been acquired in 1986 a result of the losses.

The acquisition of the Audet publisher (1988) made VNU the market leader on the Dutch newspaper sector. When the starting signal for private television in the Netherlands and Belgium was fired, VNU had initially been involved in various stations through minority shareholdings, which were consistently extended over the course of the early 1990s.

VNU continued to work on expanding its market position in the US sector of business-Information without letting its sights off the goal. In 1992, the company took over 50 percent of the Spectra Marketing Systems software company and became involved in a joint venture with Arbitron. Furthermore, VNU made sure it disposed of a considerable influence in the media business by acquiring BPI Communications Inc., the publisher of well-established business papers such as 'Billboard' and 'Hollywood Reporter'. The 'Dutch Info Giant' (The Industry Standard) once again called for a complete reorientation in 1998, when it bought the information service provider World Directories (Print and online-telephone index) for 2,1 billion US-Dollars and sold off almost all of its printing offices, daily newspapers and TV-share holds.

Therefore, the company navigated away from the traditional waters of publishing towards the area of market and media research by the end of the 1990s. As part of the reorientation, VNU acquired the American company Nielsen Media Research for 2,7 billion $ in 1999. The company held the monopoly for establishing TV-ratings both in the USA and Canada. However, the main reason for VNU's acquisition of Nielsen Media Research had probably been the company's market position as the vanguard of innovation as far as Internet-ratings were concerned. The company took one more step in the direction of market and media information with the acquisition of the American market research giant ACNielsen in spring 2001 for 2,3 billion US-Dollars.

ACNielsen was founded in 1923 in the USA by Arthur C. Nielsen Sr. Nielsen invented the method of the 'Handelspanel', the gathering of Data in business as well as the concept of the 'market share', which is still in use today. After the Second World Ward, the company expanded to Western Europe, Australia and Japan (among others). In Germany, ACNielsen took over the 'Schmidt & Pohlmann Gesellschaft für Werbestatistik” a 100 percent and founded the ' A.C. Nielsen Werbeforschung S + P GmbH' as a result thereof in 1979. In 1996, the 'Nielsen Media Research' division for media research became an independent company as part of a restructuring process. Due to the acquisition of VNU in early 2001, they were once again based under the same roof. At the same time, the company parted with its consumer and educational publications through the sale of the Directories division in late 2004 for approx. 2,1 billion €. In 2005, VNU had its eyes on entering the medicine and health sector through the acquisition of IMS Health, a market research company specialising on pharmacy. However, the fusion was prevented due to resistance on the side of the shareholders.

In 2006, became the target of a friendly take-over attempt through private finance investors. 80 percent of company shares ended up in the hands of the finance investor group Valcon Acquisition, a consortium of six private equity companies, including the Blackstone Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Thomas H. Lee & Partners, AlpInvest Partners, Carlyle Group and Hellman & Friedman. The major shareholder Knight Vinke Asset Management initially tried to fend off the takeover, but agreed to an increased offer eventually. Afterwards, the market worth of the company amounted to 8,7 billion Euro (including debts). Before 2007, Valcon also acquired the remaining shares of VNU, which became a non-stock market orientated private company.

In 2007, Nielsen announced the take-over of the NetRatings company, which specialised in audience research in the online segment. In August 2007 followed the acquisition of Telephia, a market research for all things telecommunication and mobile media. Furthermore, the company signed one of the highest endowed outsourcing contracts in US history. The Indian service provider company Tata Consultancy Services receives 1,2 billion US-Dollar for IT-supervision, accounting and data processing within the next ten years.

At the same time, VNU changed its name to 'The Nielsen Company'. The idea behind this change had been to make better use of the well known brand name Nielsen. The name change was accompanied by a better integration and unification of the global company activities.

The Nielsen Company continued to acquire companies and hence both strengthening and enhancing its monopoly on the American market. Some customers and observers look upon this development with a critical eye, especially regarding problems with the measuring methods using by Nielsen.

In April 2007, Nielsen//NetRatings and the main competitor ComScore were prompted to have their measuring methods reviewed by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB=US-American lobby for online advertising). Over the last few years, the had been cases of severe discrepancies in the data provided by both companies. The IAB hopes that the review will ensure a higher transparency of client numbers, on the basis of which advertising prices in online divisions are calculated. The examination is currently carried out by the independent Media Rating Council (MRC). Nielsen had already been engaging in preliminary talks with the Media Rating Council. Initially, the results were subject to release in 2008. However, due to the fact that Nielsen already modified its modus operandi of measuring even during the examination, the final results won't be released until later this year.

Furthermore, new methods of gathering data are supposed to be paint an even more accurate picture of the customer. Nielsen plans to capture the complete habits of both usage and buying of media products of any given customer in the long run. So far, the Internet habits of one group of people and the buying habits of a second group is being gathered in so-called 'Panels', the data of which is subsequently connected with the help of statistic data. However, if one would analyse the patterns of media usage and the buying habits of a single group of people, the statements would be much more accurate, especially in regards to the effects of advertising. Although Nielsen pointed out that anonymity would be ensured, many panel-participants consider the border between anonymity and the 'translucent customer' already crossed. The number of participants taking part in the combined gathering of Internet data and television habits is decreasing at such a swift rate, that Nielsen Company already distanced itself from the plans, according to the New York Times. 

Nielsen also promises to change its ways as far as television is concerned. In the past, there had been several cases of delays in the gathering of data for TV-ratings. Nielsen plans to renew the servers in order to cater for the ever-growing mass of data. In mid-2007, the gathering of data for TV-ratings was already modified, due to the worries of advertiser that adverts would not be seen any more due to DVD recorders, which makes it possible for users to use the fast forward function and skip the adverts. Thanks to the ratings system however, data for advertising clips can be processed separately from editorial content. Furthermore, the usage of television outside of domestic households (in fitness clubs, pubs, etc.) is planned to be tracked automatically by means of user-diaries. The upcoming autumn will also the introduction of a combined rating for television consumption via TV and online-stream.

It had first and foremost been the new founding of the CIMM market research consortium by the largest US media companies in September 2009 that prompted Nielsen to undertake the aforementioned step. The 'Coalition for Innovative Measurement' (CIMM) include the media companies NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp., Discovery, Viacom, CBS and Walt Disney (among others) but also important advertising clients such as Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever. The consortium criticised Nielsen's measuring methods and claimed that they would not be up to contemporary standards. CIMM launched a pilot project for research and development of a platform-independent method of gathering r atings for TV, Internet and mobile services.

Towards the end of 2009, Nielsen sold eight special interest magazines to the investor-consortium, including 'The Hollywood reporter', a magazine for the US-American film and entertainment industry, as well as 'Adweek', a special interest magazine for the advertising business. The renowned music magazine 'Billboard', which determines the US-American music charts, as well as the magazines 'Brandweek', 'Mediaweek', 'The Clio Awards', 'Backstage' and 'Film Journal International' all changed the owner too. According the media reports, the newly formed consortium 'E5 Global Media' paid about 84 million US-Dollar for the magazines from the 'Business Media'-division of the market researcher Nielsen. The 'Kirkus Review' book magazine and the journalism magazine 'Editor and Publisher' had been scheduled to be cancelled by the end of the year, but both magazines were bought after all. The 'Radio Records' special interest was cancelled as early as June. In 2010, Nielsen sold its travel magazines to NorthStarTravel Media and the food magazines to Stagnito Media. As a result of these activities, Nielsen only publishes seven magazines. By pushing off the non-profitable titles, Nielsen was able to focus on the core business and profitable projects. 




Since August 2006, David L. Calhoun has been the CEO of the Nielsen Company. He took over the position from the Dutch Rob van der Bergh, who left the company after the failed fusion attempt with IMS Health. Like his predecessor, Calhoun concentrates his efforts on the core business of professional and marketing information servies. These business fields provide much higher profit margins as compared to traditional publishing activities and the television business. Calhoun had been working for General Electric Company since 1981, his latest position was vice-chairman of the board and CEO of the GE infrastructural division. In 2007, three more board members came from GE to Nielsen: The deputy chairman of the board Mitchell J. Habib, who is also responsible for the Global Business Service, the finance advisor Brian West and head of personnel Mary Liz Finn. The most powerful woman in the top-managment of Nielsen is the deputy-CEO Susan D. Whiting. She began her career at Nielsen Media Research in 1978 and has been working for all divisions of the company since, including as CEO for Nielsen Media Research in 2001 and as deputy-CEO of the 'Media Measurement and Information' division since 2005 at VNU.


Business Fields


As of the 31st of December 2009, the company was divided and restructured into three business segments: Watch, Buy and Expositions.

What Consumers Buy (Market research)
This segment provides the consumer goods industry with customer information. Nielsen measures sales and market shares. With an annual revenue of 2,993 billion, the company outdoes competitors such as Information Ressources Inc.,  The Kantar Group and Source Interlink Companies Inc. 64 % of the annual income of the Nielsen Company are generated by market research.

Nielsen is active in more than 100 countries and observes the behaviour and attitude of consumers on top of market developments. The key clients are producers and sellers of food, so-called 'Fast moving consumer goods'. Other Nielsen companies in market research are the Nielsen Scantrack, Nielsen Homescan, Nielsen Spectra, BASES, Claritas, Nielsen Direct Data, Scarborough Research and the latest acquisition from 2007, the Telephia company (now Telecom), which is active in the field of telecommunication/mobile media.

After the failed attempt to take over IMS Health, Nielsen founded NielsenHealth in August 2007, an in-house information service for the medicine and health sector. NielsenHealth gathers data on relevant target groups (doctors and patients) and supports the providers for this segment with product development and marketing decisions. It appears that the health market's importance is increasing at a staggering rate. In Germany, Nielsen agreed to a cooperation with INSIGHT Health, a leading information provider for the pharmaceutics market. In May 2007, Nielsen extended its Pharma & Health Care Panel in Germany.

What Consumers watch (Media research)
This division is concerned with audience research and analysis. It offers data for media companies, on the basis of which prices for advertising are calculated. At the same time, the media research division rates the advertising for the industry and ascertains the success of different marketing instruments. On a global scale, Nielsen measures approximately 35% of all TV-ratings and the market share of Nielsen's Internet-measurements is 70%. The most famous companies within the media research division of Nielsen are Nielsen Media Reserarch and Nielsen//NetRatings, an advertising–statistics-service for the Internet. The vision of the CEO David Calhoun sees the Nielsen//NetRatings constituting the currency Internet-advertising, just like Nielsen Ratings has been for decades as far as US-Television has been concerned. Furthermore, the usage of online user-generated content  is tracked by the BuzzMetrics company. The program measures when and how product names are used in the Web (2.0). Since April 2010, BuzzMetric has been benefiting from a collaboration with the Social Commerce Application Organisator Bazaarvoice. Thus, Bazaarvoice gathers consumer generated product rating and reviews for BuzzMetrics.

Expositions (Business-Media-Services)
The Nielsen Business Media division encompasses several services in the B2B-segement. Nielsen Expositions hosts professional fairs as well as conferences. About 40 events with 270.000 participants in 20 different industries are organised by NBM each year.


Institute of Media and Communications Policy


Germany's Federal Agency for Civic Education,


the city of Cologne, Germany,