Nielsen Has A Buyer For NRG; Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer In The Chase?

By David Lieberman, Anita Busch

UPDATE: One rumored name Deadline has been hearing as aggressive in the hunt to acquire National Research Group: Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who has made a name for himself in Hollywood as the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. Ballmer is becoming a fixture in town after paying a record price and rescuing the team from the scandal-scarred Donald Sterling at a time when the team has eclipsed the Lakers to become the most coveted Staples Center ticket as the Lakers rebuild. We should have an answer about NRG soon enough.

EXCLUSIVE: Nielsen’s five-month search for someone to buy its movie research arm National Research Group (NRG) is over, and an announcement could come as early as tomorrow, we’re told.

NRG is one of the largest companies that provides movie studios with market research about their releases. It has been on the block since June when Nielsen hired banker Jordan Edmiston to explore a sale. Around the same time NRG laid off about a dozen staffers in its Los Angeles office.

Nielsen did not respond to a call.

Several companies that kicked the tires dropped out, but market research firm PSB Research signed an NDA and was still talking with Nielsen last month. Political analysts Mark Penn and Doug Schoen created the Washington, D.C.-based firm 35 years ago. It’s part of WPP Group’s Young & Rubicam and provides info on everything from political issues and campaigns to movie openings.

In July PSB named Jon Penn CEO of its media and entertainment practice. He has worked with studios since 2003.

Nielsen plans to sell NRG’s brand name and capability to track films in the U.S. and abroad. NRG has been around for 37 years and is synonymous with movie tracking. VNU (which at one time owned The Hollywood Reporter) bought NRG in 1997 for $44 million. In 2002, after VNU acquired Nielsen Media Research, it integrated NRG into Nielsen.

Shares in the company best known for its TV ratings have appreciated about 8% so far this year as it struggles to persuade media and ad companies that it’s up to measuring audiences on digital devices as well as traditional televisions. Rentrak and comScore recently said that they plan to merge, and challenge Nielsen.

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