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VNU Acquiring Nielsen Media Research

Dutch publishing giant VNU NV, through its U.S. subsidiary VNU USA Inc., said Monday it will acquire television ratings firm Nielsen Media Research Inc. in a deal valued at $2.7 billion.

A Nielsen exec was later quoted as saying that the companies may plan an IPO for the Nielsen//NetRatings Web measurement service venture with NetRatings Inc.

VNU will pay $37.75 per share of Nielsen common stock. VNU will also take on $200,000 in Nielsen's debt. The deal, already approved by the board of directors at both companies, is expected to close this fall.

Nielsen, which is best known for its television audience measurement and also tracks information on advertising and Internet usage, employs 3,300 workers and had revenues of $402 million last year.

VNU publishes newspapers, consumer and business magazines, textbooks, offers marketing information services and organizes trade shows. VNU employes about 15,000 people and had annual revenues last year of more than $2.8 billion.

"This is an event of transforming importance for both VNU and for Nielsen Media Research," said John A. Dimling, president and chief executive officer for Nielsen Media Research. "For VNU, the merger provides opportunities for growth across the entire media landscape, including traditional and interactive media and Internet services. For Nielsen Media Research, the alliance provides opportunities to grow our core business in partnership with VNU in the United States and Canada, as well as opportunities for global expansion of our research and measurement business."

"An IPO (for Nielsen//Netratings) will be in the not too distant future," VNU USA Chairman Jerry Hobbs told journalists at a press conference about VNU's plan to buy Nielsen. "While nothing is absolutely decided, there's an indication that we'll move in that direction, probably within a year's time."

VNU said it estimates Nielsen//NetRatings is worth about the same as rival Media Metrix Inc., which has a market value of about $650 million. The market for Internet audience measurement services is forecast to reach $100 million by 2003 from $19 million last year, according to market researcher Forrester Research Inc.

Nielsen has just under 14 percent of the venture now, and plans to spend $70 million to raise that stake to 54 percent. NetRatings is seeking to sell about a quarter of the venture, Hobbs said.