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The Nielsen Company
Type Private
Founded 1923
Headquarters New York, United States
Key people David L. Calhoun, CEO
Susan D. Whiting, EVP
Mitchell J. Habib, EVP
Industry Media
Products Marketing Research
Advertising research
Revenue $5.0 billion (2008)
Employees 36,000 (2008)

The Nielsen Company is an American marketing and advertising research company headquartered in New York, NY. Nielsen is active in over 100 countries, and employs some 36,000 people worldwide. Total revenues amounted to $5.0 billion in 2008.


Company information

The Nielsen Company is a privately held global information and media company, and is one of the world's leading suppliers of marketing information (Nielsen Consumer, formerly ACNielsen), media information and TV ratings (Nielsen Media Research), online intelligence (Nielsen Online), mobile measurement (Nielsen Mobile), trade shows and business publications (Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Adweek).[1]

David L. Calhoun is The Nielsen Company’s Chairman of the Executive Board and Chief Executive Officer. Calhoun came to Nielsen in 2006 from General Electric. Susan D. Whiting is the Executive Vice President of The Nielsen Company and Chairman of Nielsen Media Research. Whiting has been with Nielsen since 1978 and was named one of the 100 Most Influential Women in New York City business by Crain’s New York Business in 2007.

The Nielsen Company's major businesses include:[2]

  • Nielsen Consumer: provides measurement and analysis of marketplace dynamics and consumer attitudes and behavior
  • Nielsen Consumer Panel Services (Homescan & Spectra)
    • Homescan: multi-outlet panel that captures consumer purchase behavior, demographic profiles, attitudes & usage information and evaluations of the impact of media on actual behavior
    • Spectra: suite of applications that provide segmentation and targeting analysis
  • BASES: combines primary consumer research with forecasting techniques to estimate the sales potential of new product initiatives prior to market entry.
  • Nielsen Claritas: provides companies with marketing research demographic data, marketing software and market segmentation services
  • IMS: media planning and analysis software for industry and proprietary research
  • Nielsen Business Media: includes trade publications (such as The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard), trade shows, digital products and services, serving markets across the entertainment, media and marketing, retail, travel and performance, and design industries
  • Nielsen Entertainment: provides market information, creative testing, marketing solutions and analytical tools through business units focused on film, music, home entertainment, books, and interactive entertainment
  • Nielsen IAG: collects engagement metrics - advertisements, product placement, and program sponsorship occurring across all broadcast and major cable networks during primetime
  • Nielsen Media Research: measures the size of audiences for television, radio and print, as well as advertising spending and creative content information and services
  • Nielsen Mobile: provides syndicated consumer research to the telecom and mobile media markets
  • Nielsen Online: measurement and analysis of online audiences, advertising, video, blogs, consumer-generated media, word of mouth, commerce and consumer behavior
  • PERQ/HCI: reports on advertising expenditures and content in healthcare journals in the U.S.
  • Scarborough Research: measures the shopping patterns, lifestyles and media habits of U.S. consumers
  • SRDS: provider of media rates and data

Company history

Arthur C. Nielsen and the company’s founding

Arthur C. Nielsen founded the AC Nielsen Company in 1923 with the idea of selling engineering performance surveys. It was the first company to offer market research.[3] The company expanded its business in 1932 by creating a retail index that tracked the flow of food and drug purchases. This was the first retail measurement of its kind and for the first time allowed a company to determine its “share” of the market.[3] Arthur C. Nielsen is credited with coining this business term.

Radio and television

In 1936, Arthur C. Nielsen acquired the Audimeter, which measured which radio stations a radio had been tuned to during the day. After tinkering with the device for a few years, the company created a national radio rating service in 1942.[4] The company collected information on which stations were tuned to in 1,000 homes. Then, this survey data was sold to manufacturers who were interested in the popularity of programs and demographic information about listeners for advertising purposes. This was the birth of audience measurement that would become the most well-known part of Nielsen’s business when applied to television.[4] Today, these are commonly referred to as “Nielsen ratings.”

The company began measuring television audiences in 1950, at a time when the medium was just getting off the ground. Just as with radio, a sampling of homes across the U.S. was used to develop ratings. This information was collected on a device that was attached to a television that recorded what was being watched. In 1953, the company began sending out diaries to a smaller sample of homes (“Nielsen families”) within the survey to have them record what they had watched.[3] This data was put together with information from the devices. This combination of data allowed the company to statistically estimate the number of Americans watching TV and the demographic breakdown of viewers.[3] This became an important tool for advertisers and networks.

In the 1980s, the company launched a new measurement device known as the “people meter.” The device resembles a remote control with buttons for each individual family member and extras for guests. Viewers push a button to signify when they are in the room and push it again when they leave, even if the TV is still on. This form of measurement was intended to provide a more accurate picture of who was watching and when.[5]

On November 18, 2008 Nielsen announced that will return to the US radio ratings business after discontinuing the service in 1968 by announcing it will start debuting its new radio rating service in 50 US mid-size radio markets beginning the spring of 2009 and the results will be available in the summer[6]. Nielsen will use its address-based sampling (ABS) to recruit sample households. The Nielsen-pioneered method uses randomly selected addresses rather than telephone numbers in its domestic television measurement in order to reach the 34% of U.S. households that are not covered by current sampling methods, including cell-phone only and many unlisted land line phone households, according to the company[7].

In July 2008 [8] The Nielsen Company released the first in a series of quarterly reports detailing video and TV usage across the ‘three screens’ – Television, Internet and Mobile devices. The A2/M2 Three Screen Report also includes trends in timeshifted viewing behavior and its relationship to online video viewing, a demographic breakdown of mobile video viewers and DVR penetration.

Mergers and acquisitions

The company was acquired by the Dun & Bradstreet Company in 1984.[9] D&B, as it is known today, broke Nielsen into two separate companies in 1996. These were Nielsen Media Research, which was responsible for TV ratings, and AC Nielsen, which was responsible for consumer shopping trends and box-office data.[10] The Dutch publishing company VNU acquired Nielsen Media Research in 1999.[11] It later recombined the two halves of the business when it acquired AC Nielsen in 2001.

VNU combined the Nielsen properties with other research and data collection units including BASES, Claritas, HCI and Spectra. The company's publishing arm also owned several publications including The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard magazine. VNU began acquiring companies that added to its measurement capabilities. In 2006, it acquired a majority stake in Buzzmetrics, a company which measures consumer-generated media online. Under the new ownership, Nielsen bought the remaining shares of the company in 2007.[12] In the same year, Nielsen acquired Telephia which measures mobile media.[13]

In 2006, VNU was acquired by a group of six private equity firms which included Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Thomas H. Lee Partners, Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman and AlpInvest Partners[14] for £5bn.[15] In the same year, the group hired David L. Calhoun, formerly of General Electric, as CEO.[16] He renamed VNU as The Nielsen Company in 2007.

VNU sold its business publications division in 2006 for €320m (£210m) to venture capital group 3i, which then sold the UK division (VNU Business Publications Ltd) to Incisive Media.[15]

In 2008, the company acquired IAG Research which measures viewer engagement with TV commercials.[17] The same year Nielsen made a strategic investment in NeuroFocus, a California firm applying neuroscience brainwave techniques for consumer research.[18]


  1. ^ Official Site – About The Nielsen Company
  2. ^ The Nielsen Company Major Businesses
  3. ^ a b c d Gillespie, Mary. “Nielsen makes viewers count by watching them watch TV.” Chicago Sun-Times, April 9, 1989
  4. ^ a b Basler, Barbara. “A.C. Nielsen, Who Devised System That Rates TV Programs, Dead.” New York Times, June 4, 1980
  5. ^ Kaplan, Peter W. “Nielsen to Try New Audience-Survey Device.” New York Times, October 16, 1985
  6. ^ "Nielsen to Measure Radio Audiences in 50 Cumulus Markets" From (November 18, 2008)
  7. ^ "U.S. Radio Audience Measurement"
  8. ^ Whichever Screen, People are Watching
  9. ^ D&B Company History
  10. ^ Deogun, Nikhil. “VNU Nears Deal to Acquire ACNielsen.” The Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2000
  11. ^ Pope, Kyle. “VNU to Buy Nielsen Media for $2.5 Billion --- Accord to Help Dutch Firm Speed Up Its Transition To Information Concern.” The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 1999
  12. ^ Nielsen to Acquire Remaining Shares of Buzzmetrics
  13. ^ Dickson, Glen and Eggerton, John. “Nielsen Closes on Telephia Deal,” Broadcasting & Cable August 10, 2007
  14. ^ Singer, Jason and Berman, Dennis K. “VNU Gets Board Approval for Sale To Group of Private-Equity Firms.” The Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2006
  15. ^ a b Incisive to buy VNU Business Publications, Daily Telegraph, February 6, 2007
  16. ^ Siklos, Richard. “Made to Measure” Fortune Magazine, February 20, 2008
  17. ^ Elliott, Stuart. “Nielsen’s Latest Purchase is Audience Research Firm” New York Times, April 8, 2008
  18. ^ Gary Holmes, "Nielsen Makes Strategic Investment in NeuroFocus, an Innovative Leader in Neuromarketing Research" Nielsen Media Research, February 7, 2008

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