Nielsen getting serious about going private under new CEO David Kenny

Elliott has pushed the company to find a buyer. Nielsen said in September that it was working with investment banks JPMorgan Chase and Guggenheim Securities, as well as law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, on an “expanded” review of strategic alternatives, including a sale of the company.

That prompted interest from a number of private equity firms, said the people. The firms include a consortium led by private equity firms Blackstone and Hellman & Friedman, two of the people said. The Financial Times reported the two firms had joined together for a bid in October.

But Nielsen had pushed away from engaging with potential buyers until it hired a CEO, two of the people said.

Kenny is a tech industry veteran, and was most recently the head of IBM’s artificial intelligence platform after joining the company through its acquisition of The Weather Company, where he was chairman and CEO. He previously co-founded and served as chairman and CEO of digital marketing agency Digitas, which sold to Publicis in 2006 for $1.3 billion. Prior to that, he was a partner at consulting firm Bain & Company.

Kenny’s hiring has piqued the interest of Bain Capital, two of the people said. A deal with Blackstone and H&F would return Nielsen to two of its previous owners. Six private equity firms — Blackstone, H&F, KKR & Co., Thomas H. Lee, Carlyle and AlpInvest — took Nielsen private for $10 billion in 2006. It returned to the public markets in 2011.

Spokespeople for Bain and H&F did not immediately return requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Nielsen declined to comment. Blackstone also declined to comment.

Elliott has had recent success pushing companies toward a sale, including Travelport and Athenahealth.

If Nielsen does go private, it will be one of the largest leveraged buyouts in recent years and in the ballpark of some of the largest LBOs ever. Blackstone also closed a $17 billion deal for the majority of Thomson Reuters’ Financial & Risk business earlier this year.

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