Comscore‘s new CEO, Jon Carpenter, is moving quickly to speed up the way Comscore delivers its audience data to clients.
In an interview, Carpenter told Broadcasting+Cable that during his eight months at the company, clients he spoke to dinged Comscore for how slowly it processes and distributes its data. It was their biggest complaint.
In the race to provide an alternative to Nielsen, iSpot.TV turns around linear viewing in 24 hours and cross-platform viewing in 48 hours. ”That’s the high water mark,” said one industry source, noting that iSpot’s measurement is based on automated content recognition data from smart TVs.
Comscore takes about nine days to turn around its data. “They came in through the set-top-box, which makes them very slow,” the source said.
Carpenter said speed is a priority and that he expects to be able to get Comscore’s reporting schedule down to 48 hours by the end of the year.
“We’ve got what I consider the hard part figured out, which is the completeness of our offering, the methodology, the IP, if you will, around how to do measurement at scale,” Carpenter said. “We’ll figure out speed and when we do, we’re going to be a really attractive player in the space.”
When Carpenter was named earlier this month to succeed Bill Livek as Comscore’s CEO, some in the industry saw the decision to elevate the company’s CFO as a sign that the company’s board was more interested in counting dollars than counting viewers.
“I think it does send a clear signal to the industry,” said Jed Meyer, senior VP, media domain leader at Kantar, which in some areas competes with Comscore. “He’s not a product guy. He’s not a research guy. He’s not a client guy. He’s a financial person. You can read into that, right?”
Meyer, who has worked at Nielsen, at TV networks and media agencies, said the industry needs strong third-party measurement providers. ”If this means Comscore’s committed to reinvigorating and investing in their platforms and going to market, I think the market would be receptive to that. From a friendly competitor point of view, I hope it’s a good development.”
Needham & Co. senior media and internet analyst Laura Martin said she thought Carpenter had been hired as an heir apparent to Livek. She said Comscore’s owners, including Charter Communications and John Malone’s Qurate, didn’t necessarily want a visionary running the company.
Focus on Fiscal Health
“I think the owners know what they want, which is to make sure this is a healthy company that measures local” market television viewing, she said. There have been complaints about the way Nielsen measures local TV and Comscore has made inroads with TV stations and cable operators.
“The owners are trying to protect the billions of dollars of ad revenue” they generate in local markets, including the smaller local markets.
Putting a CFO in charge could signal plans to sell assets, or the entire company, but Martin didn’t think there was anyone in line to acquire Comscore, which has solicited buyers as it reviewed its strategic options in recent years.
Carpenter declined to comment on potential merger and acquisition activity beyond noting that publicly held companies are also ways for sale.
After issues in its financial statements led to a reaudit, executive changes and fraud charges that dogged the company for four years, Comscore recapitalized and reduced its debt when Charter, Quarate and Cerberus invested $204 million in the company in January 2021.
“One of the reasons why I took their job is I like the recapitalization that was done,“ Carpeneter said. “These are shareholders that are in it for the long term and you know, that’s what makes my day to day attractive is because they’re willing to lean in on the strategy and see this company succeed.”
The new CEO is also seen by some as more than a bean counter. Carpenter said that while he was hired as CFO, the position Comscore was looking to fill was “effectively a combination of COO and CFO,” he said. In his finance career, he said, he had increasingly taken on operator roles, particularly in his previous job at Publishers Clearing House.
Carpenter said he sees himself bringing an operational focus and discipline to Comscore as the media industry more actively seeks alternatives to Nielsen. He said that the pandemic created more openness to change that Comscore could take advantage of.
“We’ve got a real opportunity, given the assets and the completeness of those assets that we have, to win in an environment that is likely not to be dominated by one single currency, but by a couple of players,“ he said. ”I like our position in that market environment.”
Comscore’s strongest assets are its local and addressable measurement products, observers noted. Its local measurement was recently certified as an alternative to Nielsen by NBCUniversal and is being tested as ad buying currency by Horizon Media.
“We’ve got a lot of really good momentum that Bill and the team have built over the last couple of years,” Carpenter said. “We’re excited about the local offering and what It ultimately means for our ability to deliver cross-platform more broadly to national clients.”
Lots of Competition
Comscore, which has played second fiddle to Nielsen for years, now also faces competition from newer, hotter startups, including iSpot.tv and VideoAmp, which have raised money from inventors to build their business while Comscore was repaying debts.
iSpot.tv recently received a $325 million investment from Goldman Sachs, an amount that dwarfs Comscore’s market cap of about $175 million.
“I've got no concerns around our ability to command liquidity to drive the strategic direction of this company forward,“ Carpenter said. “I like the operating model going forward a lot better than some of these players who raised attractive money at a time when the market was frothy. I like how we’re positioned.”
To compete, Comscore will have to retain its top TV executives who had been loyal to Livek. Carpenter said there have been no changes in the company’s senior management team since he was elevated.
Comscore is also rebuilding its digital products, incorporating technology and personnel from social-media specialist Sharablee, which it bought last year for $45 million.
In the current upfront market, Comscore’s data is being tested as a potential currency by several media companies and buying agencies. Close to 100 advertisers used Comscore data to buy advanced targets, one source indicated.
Carpenter didn’t want to share details about how Comscore did in the upfront, but said “we were up there with the other player being vetted. I think this is a scenario were there are multiple currencies going forward. I really like our positioning.” ■
Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.
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