Timeline: Nielsen’s fall from grace, rebrand and eventual sale
After a tumultuous few years, Nielsen has been bought out for $16bn by a group of private equity investors. The Drum looks back at the highs and lows that have led to Nielsen’s buyout.
What led to Nielsen’s $16bn buyout?
For almost 100 years Nielsen has been the gold standard for data and market measurement, but its reputation has taken a massive hit in recent years after it admitted to underreporting TV ratings. Historically the primary TV ratings system in the US, Nielsen has struggled to stay relevant as audiences move online and panel-based measurement systems become increasingly outdated.
Trust in the firm was at an all-time low after being stripped of its accreditation. but Nielsen came back fighting by unifying its measurement system and rebranding its business.
Now with a $16bn private equity buyout, the industry will be watching Nielsen with a keen eye to see whether it succeeds in overhauling its solutions and restoring trust.
May 2021: Underreporting first emerges
As a result of the pandemic, Nielsen stopped servicing in-home panels, which led to an inaccurate depiction of 2020 Covid TV usage declines. In May 2021 the Media Ratings Council (MRC) conducted an audit that found Nielsen had been underreporting total TV usage by adults aged 18-49 by as much as 6% in 2020.
Nielsen admitted fault, citing its pandemic-related operational issues and reduction in its in-home panel sizes, which compromised 2020 results in around 9,400 households.
“We are fully committed to returning to pre-Covid operations and are working closely with and through the MRC to address any outstanding issues and requests and are committed to their process concerning accreditation,” Nielsen said at the time.
July 2021: VAB opens investigation
In July 2021 reports of inaccuracies at Nielsen led to the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) opening an investigation after its members raised concerns. The VAB sent a 10-page petition to the MRC calling for Nielsen to be stripped of its accreditation after it accused Nielsen of ‘multiple major and persistent violations of the minimum MRC standards.’
In reaction to the VAB’s petition, Nielsen requests its own MRC accreditation suspension in August.
September 2021: MRC strips accreditation
The MRC officially suspends the accreditation of both Nielsen’s national and local ratings service in September 2021, pausing accreditation until Nielsen proves it can resolve its measurement failings.
Nielsen told The Drum at the time: “We are committed to the audit process and during this pause in accreditation we will work with the MRC on resolving this suspension. We will also take the opportunity to focus on innovating our core products and continue to deliver data that clients can rely on, ultimately creating a better media future for the entire industry.”
October 2021: Nielsen rebrands
In October 2021 chief marketing officer Jamie Moldafsky unveiled Nielsen’s major rebrand, which placed emphasis on Nielsen’s content and media planning capabilities and marketed its cross-channel management framework Nielsen One.
Later in the month, Nielsen unified its various TV streaming solutions into one measurement suite.
November 2021: Rollout of new commercial currency
Nielsen announced it would roll out a new system for establishing commercial ratings in November 2021 and move away from its existing commercial currency C3. Set to come into place in 2022, the new system will base audience estimates on individual ads instead of commercial minutes.
March 2022: Private-equity buyout
Come March 2022, rumors emerge that a consortium of private-equity firms led by Elliott Management and Brookfield Asset Management put a $15bn bid on Nielsen, sending its stocks up 30%.
Nielsen’s board rejected the bid, claiming the offering “significantly undervalued” the company and would be unlikely to get shareholder approval.
A week later, Nielsen accepted a higher $16bn offer from the same consortium agreeing $28 per share.