Data firm Nielsen to cut 3,500 jobs, accelerate exit of smaller units

For years, the company downplayed the cord-cutting trend, then it was late to offer data products that measured streaming consumption.
The logo of Nielsen Holdings, Plc. (Logo: Nielsen/Graphic: The Desk)

Nielsen Holdings, the dominant provider of data that measures media consumption across broadcast and streaming platforms among others, says it will eliminate thousands of jobs and accelerate a plan to exit smaller, under-performing areas of its business.

The announcement was made in a press release issued early Tuesday morning.

As part of a “broad-based optimization plan,” the data firm says it will exit “several smaller, under-performing markets and non-core businesses” later this year while moving quickly to reduce headcount company-wide that will result in the elimination of a staggering 3,500 jobs.

By shedding smaller units and thousands of jobs, the company says it stands to save around $250 million.

Nielsen chief executive David Kenny said in a statement that the company is renewing its focus on consolidating units across the company and automating services where possible, with a particular focus on segments of the company where revenue margins are higher.

“Today’s plan encompasses, accelerates, and expands on those initiatives,” Kenny said. “These restructuring actions will further expedite our transformation to a more efficient, agile, and scalable organization and are designed to drive sustained margin expansion and increased cash generation.”

Kenny called the decision to exit certain ares of the business “difficult” while saying job losses as a result will be “permanent.”

The company said it will cost around $150 million to $170 million to restructure its businesses under the new plan. An earlier restructuring plan was said to cost between $120 and $140 million, according to guidance issued to investors three months ago, a difference of around $30 million.

Nielsen did not say which business sectors it would seek to divest, nor did it offer insight into where the 3,500 job losses would originate within the business The company says it will provide additional information about its optimization plan during a quarterly earnings call next month.

With consumers, Nielsen is best known for providing data on broadcast and cable television viewership in the form of “ratings,” which it collected through the use of hand-written diaries and electronic “people meters.”

But it failed to predict the rise of cord-cutting — and, worse, it downplayed the trend of consumers moving away from costly pay TV services for cheaper online alternatives.

Frustrated by Nielsen’s apparent lack of comprehensive data across media sectors, including streaming, some distributors and programmers have dropped the company for competing services. In 2016, Comcast said it would stop using Nielsen for some advertisement services offered by its NBC Universal unit, and broadcaster CBS publicly considered moving away from Nielsen last year.

Nielsen has attempted to bounce back by offering a suite of new data products that consider streaming. It also purchased companies like Gracenote and Arbitron which offered similar data in other industry sectors — an apparent effort to make up for some of its lost business.

It hasn’t proven enough to bring the company to the point of solvency. Last year, Nielsen hinted it might divide and sell portions of its business to stay afloat. Now it appears to be moving forward with those plans — and at a faster rate than even it once anticipated.

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