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Nielsen strikes $1.26-billion deal to buy Arbitron

Nielsen, the leading supplier of TV ratings, will acquire Arbitron, which tracks radio listenership.

December 18, 2012|By Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times
  • In the highly competitive morning drive-time, KFI once more led the way.
In the highly competitive morning drive-time, KFI once more led the way. (Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles…)

Nielsen wants to become the one-stopshop for measuring media.

Already the leading supplier of television ratings, Nielsen Holdings struck a $1.26-billion deal to acquire Arbitron Inc., which tracks listenership of the radio industry.

The purchase puts measurement of two of the biggest media platforms in the hands of one company. New York-based Nielsen also has a growing business rating Internet traffic as well as consumer shopping habits.

"This deal is a great deal for the Nielsen company," Chief Executive David Calhoun said on a conference call Tuesday with analysts and media. "It gives us a whole new medium to measure."

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Calhoun said there will be $20 million in synergy savings from the acquisition.

Nielsen is paying $48 a share for Arbitron, a premium of 26% to Arbitron's Monday stock close. The combined entity had earnings of $346 million on revenue of $6 billion for the 12 months ended Sept. 30. Its cash flow was $1.7 billion.

Once fierce competitors, Nielsen and Columbia, Md.-based Arbitron have long stopped competing head to head in the measurement business. Still, the deal will require an antitrust review.

"There is very little if any overlap," said Steve Hasker, Nielsen's president of global media products. "There arerealbenefits to both radio and TV clients as well as advertisers and agencies."

Even though the combined company will control a large chunk of the audience measurement business, that alone is not enough to torpedo the acquisition on anti-competitive grounds, legal experts said.

"Without a real track record of competition, the antitrust authorities are having to look at this as potential competition, and potential competition cases are notoriously challenging," said Phil Weisser, dean of the University of Colorado Law School and a former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.

Opposition to the deal would require proof that "one or the other of these companies was well positioned and reasonably likely to enter the other's core market," Weisser said. "If you can't prove that, you can't stop this merger."

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According to Nielsen, the typical person spends five hours a day watching TV and two more hours listening to radio.

"By combining Nielsen's global capabilities and scale with Arbitron's unique radio measurement and listening information, advertisers and media clients will have better insights into consumer behavior and the return on marketing efforts," Nielsen said.

The Arbitron purchase comes at a time when Nielsen has faced criticism from its measurement of television consumption both on the TV screen and newer platforms such as the tablet computer. Some in the media industry are concerned that Nielsen's purchase of Arbitron will divert its focus from measuring television and digital platforms at a crucial time, when viewing habits are in a state of dramatic change.

"Nielsen's TV clients have been vocally and increasingly desperately calling for improvement in capturing new forms of video consumption," Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said, adding that the Arbitron deal "seems to us like a 'zig' when their customers were asking for a 'zag.'"

Nielsen's Hasker countered that the TV industry doesn't have to worry about the ratings giant taking its eye off the ball.

"We will remain 100% committed to our TV clients," Hasker said. "We're not going to break stride for one second."

joe.flint@latimes.com

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