By Nat Ives
Nielsen Holdings PLC said the decision to split itself in two and reduce shareholder dividends will create a pair of companies that innovate better and more quickly than before. That will help marketers and media companies that buy Nielsen's measurement and analytics services, according to the company.
Clients and analysts said that would be welcome.
The side of Nielsen that issues traditional TV ratings and other media metrics hasn't kept up with the rise of streaming video or marketers' desire to understand audiences in more detail than gender and age, said Jonathan Steuer, chief research officer at Omnicom Media Group, part of advertising giant Omnicom Group Inc.
"I hope that this transaction really helps focus them on innovation there. But I can't say I have a ton of faith that's likely to happen. Or if it does, it'll happen slowly," Mr. Steuer said.
"The question is how willing are they to push hard and fast toward the audience-based future," he added, "and away from the ratings-based past?"
"It's the nature of being the referee that not all players are happy all of the time," a Nielsen spokeswoman said.
Nielsen announced its plan to spin off its Global Connect business, which offers shopping data and tools to packaged-goods manufacturers and retailers, after a strategic review of options, including selling the company in whole or parts.
The review was sparked last year by activist investor Elliott Management Corp., but Elliott said Thursday that Nielsen had improved its business since then and that it approves of the spinoff plan.
The split will create value for each entity and its clients, Nielsen Chief Executive David Kenny said. "They're both going to move faster," he said. "The direction is clear on each side."
Much of the media group's work on ad effectiveness right now revolves around packaged goods, for example, because big packaged-goods companies are clients of both sides.
"But those companies are only 9% of advertisers," Mr. Kenny said. Being independent will make it easier for the media business to pursue that work for all sorts of clients, he said. "It's just clarifying that there's no category that's more important than another -- it's just what our agency clients need," Mr. Kenny said.
Mr. Kenny will become chief executive of Nielsen's media business after the separation process is complete, which the company said it expects to take nine to 12 months. The reduced dividend payouts also will help the media unit fund innovation, he said, by freeing up money to pay down debt and improve the balance sheet.
"This was all designed to have more investment, to move faster on measuring streaming in particular at scale, so we can produce one true video currency regardless of how you watched it," Mr. Kenny said.
The idea that separating lets each business perform better is the bull case, Sanford C. Bernstein analysts wrote in a research note after the decision was announced. But it is too soon to tell whether it will pay off, they said, adding that the management for the Connect business has yet to be determined.
"We shall see," the analysts wrote.
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