Comscore remains the best hope for a serious challenge to behemoth Nielsen in U.S. TV ratings or cross-media measurement. But that hope grows dimmer as the stock nears record lows amid two new C-suite departures that follow a senior-leadership shakeup just two months ago.
Chief Operating Officer Kathryn Bachmann left Comscore at the end of May after less than two months on a job she assumed in April, shortly after CEO Bryan Wiener and President Sarah Hofstetter resigned, citing “irreconcilable” strategic differences with the board.
Chief Product Officer Dan Hess is preparing to follow her out the door. He’s tendered his resignation, according to people familiar with the matter, though he remained at Comscore as of this week. Bachmann couldn’t be reached for comment, and Hess declined to comment.
What’s making the C-suite door spin so fast at Comscore is up for debate. Some people familiar with the company say Vice Chairman Bill Livek, who’s been on the board since his own company Rentrak was acquired in 2016, has wanted to be CEO since before Wiener took the job last year. Livek is said to be the key board member with whom Wiener and Hofstetter had the strategic differences that prompted their exit. Those differences are said to center on Wiener’s interest in aggressively pursuing investment in cross-platform measurement, including acquisitions, according to people familiar with the company, while the board favored going slower and focusing more on fixing Comscore’s legacy businesses.
Livek didn’t return a call for comment. Wiener and Hofstetter declined to comment.
Comscore board member Dale Fuller remains as interim CEO amid a successor search. “We are moving forward with the team that best supports our mission," Fuller said in statement. "Our current team is well-known in the industry for its broad and deep experience, and we feel Comscore is now very well-positioned organizationally to ensure exceptional customer service and to meet our aggressive customer acquisition goals.”
Fuller handled the company’s first-quarter earnings call last month, where he discussed a 10-percent companywide headcount reduction amid falling revenues. But Livek has since represented the company at two investor conferences, including this week alongside former GroupM Chairman and fellow board member Irwin Gotlieb.
On the May call, Fuller suggested he’s focused on shoring up Comscore’s declining syndicated digital audience measurement business. But several people in the industry say that business has fallen well behind IAS, Oracle’s Moat and DoubleVerify, and will be hard-pressed to catch up.
Neither of those presentations were webcast. A spokeswoman for Comscore says nothing of material importance was discussed at either conference that wasn’t covered in the earnings call, since that would violate Securities and Exchange Commission Regulation FD.
Comscore’s stock was re-listed on Nasdaq a year ago after being de-listed in 2017 after financial reports were delayed by the accounting problems.
The stock plummeted 30 percent the day after Wiener and Hofstetter resigned and has shed another 40 percent since, this week nearing all-time lows set in 2009 as shares traded at less than half what they were worth immediately after news of the accounting issues broke in 2015.
A possible silver lining is that Comscore stock is now so cheap–its market capitalization is just over $500 million–that some people close to the company believe it’s in play for takeover. Comscore declined to comment on this.
Speculation by some company watchers focuses on Integral Ad Science and its private-equity owner Vista Equity Partners, which could combine Rentrak’s TV measurement with its IAS digital audience measurement. But in a market where heavyweights Nielsen and WPP’s Kantar are openly up for sale--with various private-equity players circling--many options are in play.
Recent research questioning the value of behavioral targeting could actually boost the value of Comscore’s demographic-focused Validated Campaign Essentials or Nielsen’s cross-platform products. But Nielsen’s announcement last week of expanding the global reach of its YouTube ratings measurement to more than 30 countries puts Comscore further behind on the digital and cross-platform demographic ratings front.