The cluster of private equity predators surrounding VNU may find themselves snapping at each other's dorsal fins rather than a tasty chunk of the Dutch publishing and market research group.

The seven strong consortium - Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, AlpInvest Partners, Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman, Permira and Thomas H Lee Partners - is nearing the end of its due diligence investigations and an offer for the entire group is expected within weeks.

However, some of VNU's major shareholders are unenthused by the prospect of selling to a single entity, scenting richer pickings from auctioning the group in three separate slabs. According to insiders, these are likely to be:

  • The publishing and trade-fair division, whose assets include 140 publications including Billboard and the Hollywood Reporter;

  • The ACNielsen market-research business;

  • The media-measurement division embracing Nielsen Media Research, the pre-eminent US service for rating TV viewership.
One of VNU's largest stockholders, Knight Vinke Asset Management met last month with the VNU board to present the conclusions of its adviser, Boston Consulting, on the financial options open to the group [WAMN: 30-Jan-06].

Other significant VNU stockholders, Templeton Global Advisors and Fidelity Investments are also thought to have made their views known, although both declined public comment.

That the once almighty VNU now faces the ignominy either of an asset sell-off or takeover by short-termist private equity groups is attributable to the Icarus actions of former ceo Rob van den Bergh whose attempt last year to engineer a $7 billion takeover of IMS Health led to a shareholder revolt.

After its costly backdown from the deal and the ensuing slump in its share price, VNU itself became a takeover target.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff