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VNU’s suitors push for deal

Conglom's pricetag said to be about $8.7 billion

A group of private equity firms that has been eyeing VNU for months is trying to clinch a deal that can be signed and sealed by the time the Dutch conglom reports its 2005 financial results today.

The pricetag for the market research and publishing giant that owns Nielsen Media Research, the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard is said to be about $8.7 billion. The consortium includes AlpInvest Partners, Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group, Hellman & Friedman, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Thomas H. Lee.

The groups were negotiating Tuesday night, but it’s not clear if a deal would be reached.

And, in any case, a pact would ultimately have to be approved by VNU’s shareholders. Some of VNU’s largest investors think the company is worth more and would bring in a bigger number if it were split up and sold in pieces. That means shareholders could scuttle a deal even if it’s backed by the VNU board.

VNU’s relations with its shareholders have been testy. Last year, they forced VNU to drop a planned $8 billion buy of IMS Health, leading to the resignation of VNU’s CEO.

VNU announced Jan. 8 that the private equity group had put up a non-binding bid of €28.00 to €28.50 per share.

VNU is planning two conference calls to discuss its earnings today with investors in the Netherlands and in the U.K.

Private equity firms have been on a tear across Europe of late, having picked off the pan-European station group SBS and German broadcaster ProSiebenSat 1, among other media properties. In the U.S., they acquired Warner Music and MGM.