ESPN said to be key factor in Nielsen-Arbitron buy


ESPNThe fate of Nielsen’s proposed $1.26 billion purchase of Arbitron likely lies with ESPN, The NY Post has learned. The sports-media giant licenses software from Arbitron for a new project that enables it to tell how often viewers are watching the network over television, radio, PCs, smartphones and tablets.

The license expires soon, and the ability of ESPN to squeeze a promise from Nielsen that it will be able to continue to license the software is likely integral to the merger getting federal approval, sources said.

ESPN Senior VP Artie Bulgrin has been speaking to the FTC about the licensed software, which it calls “Project Blueprint,” a source close to the matter told the paper. “There is nothing settled,” the source added.

Nielsen has been increasingly under the Federal Trade Commission’s microscope over the deal. Rather than wrapping up its months-long review of the deal as expected, the FTC has been busy sending out additional requests for information. The latest round of questionnaires went out to TV station owners that stand to be affected by the merger of the two measurement giants.

The FTC is scheduled to make a decision this week on whether to sue to block the tie-up.

Nielsen, with its old-school technology of giving families boxes to gauge their TV choices, wants to buy radio ratings giant Arbitron in part to get hold of its PPM  technology. Nielsen developed its own people meter but, sources noted, it’s not as effective.

Regulators are concerned that if Nielsen controls the old and new technologies it will be impossible for competitors to emerge, sources said.

One of Nielsen’s largest customers is ESPN parent Disney, and if Disney objects to the merger it will be difficult to get FTC approval, the story said.

ESPN was initially against the merger, a source said, but now is discussing a compromise. Nielsen, to get the merger cleared, may agree to license Arbitron’s People Meter technology to any competitor.

See The NY Post story here