Nielsen//NetRatings will acquire rival NetValue for 18 million euros (about HK$140 million) in cash and stock, signalling another demise in the competitive Internet audience measurement market. Hong Kong director for Nielsen//NetRatings Peter Steyn said it was too early to tell whether any offices in the region would close, as Nielsen//NetRatings had acquired only a controlling 52 per cent stake in Paris-listed NetValue. A bid to acquire the remainder from public investors would be launched and after this decisions would be made about office premises and staffing levels, Mr Steyn said. Both Nielsen//NetRatings and NetValue, which compete in selling reports based on data collected from panels of Internet users, have offices in Hong Kong and have shed staff here in the past year. In several other Asian markets there is no overlap. NetValue has offices in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, while Nielsen//NetRatings' are in Japan, Australia and China. 'We will continue to evaluate each market where NetValue is and where we are and then based on the economic importance and viability, we will decide which markets to keep. Honestly at this point I don't know which markets we will keep,' Mr Steyn said. However, he said the Hong Kong office would definitely remain open. 'It's a very strong market for us.' Nielsen//NetRatings in May acquired the European audience measurement business of United States-based Jupiter Media Metrix. An offer to buy the US unit from Jupiter was blocked by antitrust regulators. Mr Steyn said the company did not see any legal opposition to the NetValue acquisition, largely because the French regulators who oversee NetValue would not stop the sale and US regulators have no jurisdiction over this merger. The NetValue acquisition will leave Nielsen//NetRatings, a unit of consumer and television measurement firm ACNielsen, as the largest Internet audience measurement company in the world and the only major firm specialising in this area. Rival Taylor Nelson Sofres has an office in Hong Kong, which conducts Internet research and covers other consumer areas as well. In Asia, fierce competition and the demise of many dotcom customers have already taken their toll on rival iamasia in November, when the Hong Kong company closed shop in a number of Asian markets. Nielsen//NetRatings also closed offices in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. Jupiter Media Metrix, whose fortunes rose along with those of the dotcom companies for which it tracked traffic, decided to liquidate this summer after selling off many of its units. What remains of Jupiter Research issues reports but no longer tracks Internet traffic. Much of the market research industry is suffering from the economic downturn, while the market for Internet research has shrunk along with the prospects of many startups and mid-sized Internet companies that once used the reports to formulate strategy. Executives from Taylor Nelson Sofres indicated regional demand for Internet market research had fallen drastically. While the active Internet population in many Asian countries continues to grow, there is a shrinking number of clients willing to pay for the market research. Mr Steyn said he saw the consolidation going some way towards eliminating the kind of confusion that existed on the client side when there were many different companies offering their own, slightly different, audience figures. 'It just eliminates confusion in the market over which numbers to use,' he said. Nielsen//NetRatings has more than 750 clients buying its reports and NetValue more than 130. NetValue has operations in France, Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, as well as Asia.