We’re betting that Brian West, CFO of The Nielsen Company, is a fan of “The Colbert Report,” based on his repeated use of “growthiness” in talking about future prospects for the company. West spoke to analysts in a conference call on Friday after reporting 2009 results for the company.
Revenues for the year were basically flat, up only $2 million to $4.8 billion. Excluding currency fluctuations, 2009 revenues were up 4%, but West said that was mostly due to acquisitions in the overseas TV ratings business.
Operating income fell to $116 million from $421 million the previous year, but both years had a lot of one-time items. Excluding those and adjusting for currency fluctuations, operating income was up 15% in 2009.
Nielsen reorganized how it reports segment financial results, following the sale of its trade publication business. The media ratings business is now the “Watch” segment; consumer purchasing research and retail measurement is the “Buy” segment; and the trade show business remaining after the sale of the publishing titles is the “Expositions” segment.
Watch segment revenues were up 10.5% to $1.6 billion in 2009, but up 11.5% on a constant currency basis. That was largely driven by a 4.6% growth in the North American TV measurement business, including the addition of five more Local People Meter markets, offset by lower customer discretionary spending within Online and box-office tracking. Excluding acquisitions, revenues for the segment were up 3% for the year. Adjusted operating income rose to $338 million from $278 million.
For Q4, Watch revenues were up 9% on a constant currency basis to $426 million.
“It feels stable,” West said of the current business environment. “Particularly on the Buy side and even to some extent the media side, we’re starting to see a little bit more growthiness, although it’s not a bounceback by any stretch of the imagination. We don’t see a big robust recovery, but we just see things kind of bouncing along,” he said in the Q&A with analysts.
Going forward, Nielsen expects to experience growth in the Watch business as its clients experience growth.“Particularly as the advertising market stabilizes and starts to have a rebound, I think the local clients will feel pretty good about that. They’ve had a tough go of it. We want to see them get back into a growth mode – obviously the big cable and broadcasting guys – so we think that’s only going to be healthy for our clients. That will accrue to us, particularly as they start to buy more custom research, which has dried up in the last 18 months to two years,” West said.