ComScore Merges with Rentrak to Build the 'iPhone' of Media Measurement

The Online Audience Firm Will Merge with TV and Movie Data Company

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Rentrak CEO Bill Livek serve as executive vice chairman and president of the combined company.
Rentrak CEO Bill Livek serve as executive vice chairman and president of the combined company.

Two big names in digital audience measurement -- comScore and Rentrak -- are joining forces. Online measurement firm and Nielsen rival comScore will merge with TV data firm Rentrak in a stock-for-stock deal. The merger makes Rentrak, based in Portland, Ore., a wholly-owned subsidiary of comScore.

As the digital ad industry has grown, comScore has been among the largest online audience measurement players. Rentrak's set-top-box data has become increasingly relevant to advertisers and their agencies as budgets shift towards media buys that allow for targeting and ad measurement across all media.

The companies see the deal as a merger of complements, and execs indicated there would be limited staff layoffs as a result. Both firms house massive amounts of data about people's online behavior, television viewing and mobile interactions enhanced by an array of information from third parties.

Execs from both companies stressed the expectation for revenue growth and broader scale of an addressable audience as a result of the deal. The firms' goals are nothing short of lofty: "The time has come to build the measurement system of the future," said Bill Livek, Rentrak's current vice chairman and CEO, who will serve as executive vice chairman and president of the combined company. "We're building the next iPhone here in media measurement," he continued.

"We're excited about the opportunity to cross-sell our existing products," and develop new ones, such as improved cross-channel advertising measurement, said Serge Matta, CEO of comScore and the combined firm.

The merger gives WPP -- one of the world's most prolific media buyers in the world and an investor in both individual companies -- a 16% stake in the combined firm, with an option to boost that stake to as much as 19.9%. Mr. Matta stressed, however, that "WPP will not have a seat on our board either as a member or observer."

On an earnings call with Wall Street last month, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said he would welcome a merger of the two companies, suggesting cooperation between comScore and Rentrak would provide competition in measurement and help drive the industry forward. This is especially important as clients express concerns regarding digital ad viewability and ratings accuracy, he added.

Rentrak bought WPP's Kantar Media US TV measurement-data business in 2014, and more recently fostered a partnership with Kantar Shopcom to ingest credit and debit card-level retail transaction data showing how much people spend at apparel and home improvement stores into its system for audience segmentation and media planning. The company also blends shopper data from IRI and Dunhumby.

In particular, the newly-merged firms see comScore's data on online viewership of content from TV broadcasters as key to completing a picture of actual television audiences. ComScore has panel- and census-based audience data.

Rentrak also has emphasized its movie audience data, which shows the number of people in North America who attend certain films and how much they spend.

Assuming the merger gets approval, which is expected in early 2016, the Rentrak brand will become part of comScore, whose current headquarters in Reston, Va., will become HQ for the combined entity.

A Nielsen spokesperson said, "There are myriad analytics options for the media industry, but Nielsen's focus is on delivering the actual currency ratings data used for trading billions of dollars in advertising. This requires superior quality, industrial-strength delivery and gold-standard audited processes and methods."

As with most mergers and acquisitions, major challenges remain, particularly when it comes to technology and data integration.

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