a media industry resource

VNU Group


This profile considers the VNU group.

It covers -

  • Introduction
  • The group
  • Holdings
  • History
  • Nielsen
  • IMS
  • Studies


Based in Haarlem (Netherlands) the VNU group - formerly the Verenigde Nederlandse Uitgeverijen group - employs around 38,000 people worldwide. It is active in over 100 countries. VNU publishes approximately 250 titles (including puzzle booklets) with a total circulation of over 375 million copies per year, and includes the AC Nielsen audience measurement business. Around half of its €4.3 billion revenue is generated in North America.

Overall it claims 180 trade magazines, 125 trade shows/events and over 250 internet sites. The corporate site is here.

The group

VNU publishes consumer magazines in the Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania.

VNU's US business publishing arm publishes trade magazines, provides online services and organizes trade shows and conferences. Titles are aimed at the entertainment, media, marketing, retail trade, groceries and beverage sectors, including Beverage World, Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter and Adweek.

It is one of the largest organizers of trade shows in the United States, Argentinia and Brazil.

Its European business publishing arm includes computer magazines (eg the trade magazines of CMP in the United Kingdom and France, and Ziff Davis Media's IT magazines), trade magazines and trade shows.

VNU's acquisition of ACNielsen was promoted as providing "global leadership in market research" regarding retailing and media audiences, including online use. In the EU the groupoffers 'lifestyle' and other marketing information through its Claritas arm. Its ORG-MARG arm is attempting to build a similar presence in Asia.


An indication of VNU holdings is here.


VNU was founded in 1964 through the merger of two Dutch publishing companies. In the 1960's the group was centred on publishing, printing and distributing consumer magazines, newspapers and books in the Netherlands and Belgium.

During the 1970's it moved into trade magazines and sought to build a presence as a supplier of professional information services. In the 1980's that activity was strengthened by expansion into other European countries and the United States.

Book publication was discontinued at that time, with printing operations being sold during the early 1990s. Most growth occurred by acquisition in the US. In the late 1990s VNU began publishing telephone directories.

In 1999 it acquired Nielsen Media Research. A year later it disposed of its newspaper arm to Wegener and bought the Miller Freeman USA trade shows and business magazine group.

At the end of 2000 VNU announced the sale of its Consumer Information and Educational Information activities: its consumer magazines were sold to Finnish publishing group Sanoma WSOY in late 2001 for €1.25 billion.

At the beginning of 2001 VNU took over ACNielsen Corporation.

Prior to September 2004 - when it unloaded its VNU World Directories arm to venture capital groups Apax Partners and Cinven for €2.1 billion - VNU was the largest 'yellow pages' publisher in Europe. The arm was active in Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Puerto Rico and South Africa with over 115 telephone directories. VNU World Directories had a market share of over 90% in Belgium, Portugal, Ireland, Puerto Rico and South Africa and over 50% in the Netherlands.

In 2005 it agreed to pay US$6.9 billion for IMS Health, the US-based research group formerly held by Dun & Bradstreet. That deal was abandoned in November 2005.

In May 2006 a group of private investors - operating under the name Valcon Acquisition - announced that their US$9.7 billion bid for VNU had succeeded. The announcement followed months of speculation that VNU would be acquired and then disassembled.


ACNielsen has been one of the world's largest market researchers, best known for its role in development of television ratings systems in the US, Australia and other countries.

Arthur Charles Nielsen (d 1980) established the eponymous firm in 1923 to provide reports on industrial equipment. In 1933 the company launched the Nielsen Food Index, followed by the Nielsen Drug Index in 1934. The indexes provided retailers, advertisers and manufacturers with periodic reports on the volume and price of packaged goods in a national sample of US grocery stores and pharmacies.

Nielsen began tracking radio advertising and programming, reflecting academic developments such as research by Cantrill and Lazarsfeld. In 1936 he acquired rights to the Audimeter, a mechanical device that recorded of the stations to which a consumer's radio receiver was tuned. Nielsen expanded to the UK in 1935 and began to build an international network, for example opening an office in Sweden in 1939.

The Nielsen Radio Index (NRI), a national report on radio audiences, commenced in December 1942 and became the dominant radio ratings mechanism after Nielsen purchased the Hooper radio and television ratings service in 1950. Nielsen launched rating services in Australia and other countries during that decade.

In 1963, with the proliferation of US stations (and Congressional criticism of the ratings industry), Nielsen replaced the mechanical meter with a diary-based survey of radio audiences - the Audiologs - but increasingly concentrated on network and local television audience measurement through devices such as the PeopleMeter. Early services included the National Television Index (NTI) and Nielsen Station Index (NSI).

In 1984 Nielsen was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet, going on to buy a range of specialists such as Logistics Data Systems and Survey Research Group (SRG) before being spun off in 1996 as AC Nielsen and Cognizant. The latter was rebadged as Nielsen Media Research in 1998 before being acquired by VNU the following year for US$2.7 billion. ACNielsen was acquired by VNU in 2001.


IMS Health, founded in 1954 by Ludwig Frohlich and David Dubow as Intercontinental Marketing Services (later Intercontinental Medical Statistics), originated as a provider of syndicated market research studies for the pharmaceutical industry. In 1980 it expanded into consumer market research in the apparel and household appliance industries but subsequently refocused efforts on its drug industry research.

IMS was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet in 1988 for around US$1.8 billion. After minor restructuring - its communication arm was sold in 1991 - IMS was spun off from D&B as a separate company in 1998 and in turn shed itself of Gartner and other non-health interests


There are no major English-language studies of the VNU group. An upbeat a commemorative volume, Van Haarlem naar Manhattan, was released by Boom Publishers (Amsterdam) in 2005.

Perspectives on the ratings business are provided by Karen Buzzard's Chains of Gold: Marketing the Ratings & Rating the Markets (Metuchen: Scarecrow 1990), Philip Napoli's Audience Economics: Media Institutions & the Audience Marketplace (New York: Columbia Uni Press 2003) and Measuring Media Audiences (London: Routledge 1994) edited by Raymond Kent.

There is a broader view in Consuming Audiences? Production & Reception in Media Research (New Hampton: Creskill 2000) edited by Ingunn Hagen & Janet Wasko, Hugh Beville's Audience Ratings: Radio, Television & Cable (Hillsdale: Erlbaum 1988), Ratings Analysis: The Theory & Practice of Audience Research (Mahwah: Erlbaum 2000) edited by James Webster & Patricial Phalen and Interpreting Audiences: The Ethnography of Media Consumption (Thousand Oaks: Sage 1993) by Shaun Moores.