A group of large institutional investors has clubbed together to explore a bid for Nielsen, the market research company with an enterprise value of roughly $17bn under intense pressure from an activist investor to sell itself, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Buyout funds Blackstone and Hellman & Friedman — alongside co-investors CPPIB from Canada and GIC from Singapore — are exploring the possibility of a bid for the TV ratings provider, which has recently hired bankers in New York to explore strategic reviews.

Nielsen, a listed company best known for its TV ratings business and which has a market cap of roughly $10bn, has recently come under growing pressure from hedge fund Elliott Management to explore its options, which include remaining public, going private, a partial or a total sale.

In August Elliott revealed a stake in the company, which has been trying to adapt to changing consumer behaviour including digital consumption on mobile platforms.

Carlyle, the Washington-based buyout group, has also expressed interest, Bloomberg reported earlier. All members of the potential investor group declined to comment.

People with direct knowledge of the possible club deal warned a bid by the group is still in the early stages and that a deal is not guaranteed.

If successful, this would make the sale one of the largest leveraged buyouts in a decade, echoing the club deals of the years before the crash.

A possible sale to the Blackstone and Hellman & Friedman-led consortium would also mean Nielsen will be going back to its previous owners. A group of private equity groups, which included Blackstone and H & F alongside Carlyle, KKR and others, took the company private in 2006.

In 2011 the group took Nielsen public with a total debt of over $8bn.

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