ACNielsen takes EDI off the marquee

$26 mil brings B.O.-tracking company into fold

Market research giant ACNielsen Corp. Thursday acquired movie box office tracking service Entertainment Data Inc. in an all-cash deal for $26 million.

Marcy Polier, the former theater chain secretary who founded EDI in 1976 and has remained at the helm of the privately held company for more than two decades, will stay on as president. The rest of the EDI staff also will remain in place, according to Polier.

The move gives market researcher ACNielsen, which specializes in consumer products and services, a toehold in the feature film industry, an area currently dominated by National Research Group.

Several companies kicked the tires at EDI after Polier engaged investment bank Coopers & Lybrand Securities to help find a buyer late last year. Among those who expressed an interest in the company were software giant Microsoft; Reed Elsevier, the parent company of Daily Variety; and VNU Marketing Information Services Inc., parent of NRG and the Hollywood Reporter.

Beverly Hills-based EDI provides overnight theatrical ticket sales reports and other box office data services to U.S. studios and exhibitors. Over the past few years the company has expanded its operations into the U.K., Germany, Spain and France.

Polier said the merger will allow EDI to accelerate its growth in the international arena. About 80% of ACNielsen’s $1.4 billion annual business is done overseas. The company has offices in 65 countries.

ACNielsen — which is no longer related to domestic television ratings service Nielsen Media Research — became an independent public company last year when Dun & Bradstreet Corp. spun off its consumer products and services market research operations.

The company’s current entertainment activities include tracking video-cassette sales and monitoring TV viewership and other media usage in 25 foreign countries.

Using its HomeScan technology, ACNielsen tracks the buying habits of better than 50,000 households in the U.S. and abroad. The company now hopes to use the system to provide the motion picture industry with information about “who is watching what and why,” said Michael Connors, ACNielsen vice chairman.

In addition to its overnight box office reporting and online box office database, EDI also publishes a weekly Release Schedule of feature pic release dates, a Theater Atlas showing theater locations and performance data for the top 100 markets, a School Holiday Calendar, and the annual Academy Award Handicap.