Nielson was founded in 1923 by Arthur C. Nielsen as the AC Nielsen Company, and was the first company to offer market research services. In 1932 the company created a retail index tracking food and drug purchases, allowing a company to calculate its share of the market. This is considered the origin of concept of market share. In the 1940’s the company was again at the forefront of the market research industry by pioneering a national audience measurement of U.S. radio stations which could be sold. Their concept was then famously transferred over the measurement of television audiences in the 1950’s, which are still commonly referred to as ‘Nielsen ratings’.
In 1984, the company was purchased by the Dun & Bradstreet Company, who ten years later separated out the company’s TV ratings services into a new company, Nielson Media Research. This company was then acquired by Dutch publishing company VNU in 1999. In 2001 VNU also acquired the remainder of the AC Nielson Company, and recombined the businesses. Following a series of restructures, divestments and a change of ownership, VNU was renamed as The Nielson Company in 2006, and operated as a private company until listing itself on the New York Stock exchange in 2011.
The separation between Nielson’s consumer behavior research and ratings services survives today, with the company structuring itself into two main segments: ‘Buy’ and ‘Watch’. The Buy segment includes services for consumer purchasing measurement and analytics, while the Watch segment includes services for media audience measurement and analytics. In 2017, the revenue generated by each of the two segments was broadly equal, coming in at 3.23 and 3.34 billion U.S. dollars respectively. This figure masks the different growth rates of each segment, however. While revenue from the Watch segment has increased by around 18 percent since 2015, Buy segment revenue has declined by four percent over this time. Overall, since commencing operation as a private company in 2006, Nielson has seen a year-on-year increase in revenue in all but one year (2015).