EXCLUSIVE: The Nielsen Co. has hired banker Jordan Edmiston to explore a possible sale of its National Research Group, Inc., one of the largest companies in entertainment which provides market research (that critically important film tracking) to the movie studios. The bank is the same one that was hired in the Marketcast sale last year when RLJ Equity Partners, in alliance with GE Asset Management, acquired MarketCast from Shamrock Capital Advisors.

Nielsen is only looking to sell the NRG film portion of its business, the assets of which are the tracking both here and abroad and the brand name itself — the company has been around for 37 years and is synonymous with movie tracking. VNU bought NRG in 1997 for $44M, then VNU acquired Nielsen Media Research and then in 2002 integrated NRG it into Nielsen.

Nielsen would not comment, except to put out this statement to Deadline: “Though we do not comment publicly on business conversations, we continue to work closely with all of our clients to meet and exceed their business needs.”

NRG currently has about 50 to 60 employees who were given 24 hours to change schedules and cancel appointments to attend what they were told was “a mandatory meeting” at 3:30 PM today. As employees gathered, NRG’s Cheryl Idell, exec VP of U.S. Media, told them that they might read an article on Deadline about an NRG sale, but that she can’t comment. When asked if it were true, she repeated again that she could not comment. Then the meeting ended.

Based in Los Angeles, NRG has offices in the UK as well. The company tests everything from promotional materials to movies in test screenings. This comes after the exit of two key executives. A year ago (yesterday), NRG’s president Derek McLay, who joined the company in 2009, and was the liaison between the company and all the major studios advising them on research and tracking for their films, was let go. Then this year, NRG’s SVP Client Consulting John Restall left to join Sony. Restall oversaw design, analysis and management of ad testing, tracking, screenings, positioning studies, brand studies, exit polls, and focus groups.

This move also comes after an internal restructuring and rebranding of service under Nielsen Content under Idell which combined TV and film into one company. Of course, they are vastly different businesses.

The obvious suitors for NRG are Marketcast, Rentrak, Screen Engine/ASI and PSB Research. NRG was founded in a very different time in the entertainment industry and was the only market research company for many years, having a stronghold on that dominance for at least two decades. It was founded by the late Joseph Farrell and Catherine Paura in 1978. At one time, NRG was the go-to firm and had the ear of every studio chairman and distribution president in town.

When another research company dared to step on NRG’s territory, they would be met with disdain and behind the scenes machinations to keep them at bay. That same research company Marketcast (founded by Joseph Helfgot) ended up suing NRG in 2003 over that kind of monopolistic activity with vendors. Since then, numerous other companies have come to prominence — including Rentrak, PSB Research and, of course, Marketcast is still going strong.