Comscore ‘Enhancements’: C-Suite Sweep, Sinking Stock

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The company that, in many ways, believe it can successfully attract clients that seek a strong alternative to struggling consumer analytics and data Goliath Nielsen has just shaken up its C-Suite.


In an announcement released Sunday (3/31), Comscore announced what it described as “enhancements to its board of directors and senior management team” to enable its next phase of growth.

Translation: Its CEO for one year has resigned, as has Comscore’s President. Both offered comments on Sunday evening via social media, ahead of a Monday stock meltdown on Wall Street.


Editor’s Note: A Q&A with Bryan Wiener, now Comscore’s former CEO, appears in the Radio + Television Business Report Spring 2019 NAB Show special edition, which was prepared in advance of the conference and is presently ready for distribution. This print edition will be available in the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center from Sunday, April 7, and via PDF download for all RBR+TVBR subscribers.


 

The late Sunday announcement was not met enthusiastically on Wall Street Monday, with Comscore’s shares, traded on Nasdaq as SCOR, tumbling 18.5%, to $16.50 by 9:45am Eastern and by a whopping 22.2% to $15.76 as of 10:28am Eastern.

By 2:45pm Eastern, more damage was inflicted on Comscore, with shares off 26.4% ($5.35 per share) to $14.90. Volume was 1.43 million shares; average volume is 157,000 shares.

With Monday’s Closing Bell, an astonishing 29.7% drop was seen, sending Comscore shares tumbling to $14.24 on volume of 1.94 million shares. It sets a fresh five-year low and puts the company at its lowest price since December 2012.

Volume increased as word hit the Street that Comscore could be dealing with significant issues after a run-up in its share price brought SCOR to above $23 a share on February 25.

However, the broader portrait of Comscore has been one of struggle on Nasdaq for nearly four years, with shares on a steady decline since a July 2015 peak of $58.50.

Comscore’s Q1 2018 conference call on February 28 turned out to be one of the final leadership appearances for CEO Bryan Wiener and President Sarah Hofstetter.

Effective April 1, Wiener is out — and has stepped down from Comscore’s Board of Directors. Hofstetter is also gone, and Comscore has no immediate plans to fill her position.

Dale Fuller, a member of Comscore’s board and Chairman of the Audit Committee since April 2018, is now interim CEO.

Furthermore, three new Comscore board members were named: Irwin Gotlieb, Joanne Bradford and Kathi Love. “The addition of these long-tenured media and technology executives is designed to accelerate the company’s next phase of growth,” the company said in the late Sunday release.

Comscore Brand Manager Hattie Young did not respond to RBR+TVBR‘s request for comment. Product Marketing Manager Autum Molay is out of the office until Tuesday.

‘IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES’

Wiener, a board member of Cars.com since May 2018, joined Comscore in the same month, following four years as Executive Chairman of digital and social communications agency 360i, where he served as Chairman/CEO from May 2005 through February 2014.

Via LinkedIn, Wiener didn’t mince words. “I have been very fortunate to lead Comscore during a period of significant change and to be part of such a talented team turning around the company strategically, financially and reputationally,” he said. “I ultimately chose to leave as the Board and I had irreconcilable differences over how to execute the company’s strategy. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished in such a short period of time, and believe the company is strategically positioned to continue to take advantage of the rapidly evolving media marketplace with a core focus on advanced TV, and I wish its loyal employees, clients and investors well.”

Hofstetter also used LinkedIn to offer a comment. She said, “We have made significant progress in a short period of time delivering on a focused strategic vision and re-establishing the company as a formidable competitor in the media measurement space, and it is a stronger company than just a few short months ago. Given Bryan had differences with the Board over how to execute the company’s strategy, and the two of us were aligned on the plan, I have made the decision to resign. It has been a privilege to be part of Comscore and to work with so many talented professionals who have been the driving force behind the company’s transformation.”

Reaction was swift, with WW (formerly Weight Watchers) SVP and Head of Customer Intelligence Julie Fleischer note, “What a disappointment that their Board was not committed to the same goals. Our industry is weakened by their departure. They are both the type of visionaries and operational experts we need to create responsible, sustainable, ethical media. Such a loss.”

Hofstetter also came to Comscore from 360i, where she was Chairwoman from April 2018 through October 2018 and CEO from October 2013. She had been at Comscore for 7 months.

Hofstetter and Wiener have a long history of working together. From 2000-2004, Wiener was President of Net2Phone, a VOIP and cable telephony pioneer. He came on board as Hofstetter served as a SVP, joining in late 1998 and exiting in January 2005.

Sunday’s announcement is a far cry from Wiener’s Q4 2018 earnings call, in which he boasted of Comscore’s “marquee quarter” and “strong finish to a pivotal year and our path forward.”

That said, Wiener expressed some wariness.

“While we are not declaring victory, we do believe [Comscore’s Q4 2018] report is yet another proof point that we’re on the right track towards building a business that can deliver improved revenue growth with expanding margins over time,” he said. “Revenue in Q4 exceed our expectations due to a strong selling quarter as well as excellent delivery on our solutions.”

Hofstetter shared how, in Q4, Comscore signed expanded group-wide currency deals with Nexstar Media Group, Gray Television, NBCUniversal-owned television stations, which includes Telemundo-owned stations, and The E.W. Scripps Company. Comscore also rolled out a new local TV planner product in beta ahead of schedule, which Hofstetter said the company believed will support continued adoption efforts on the buy side. “This momentum in local as well as accelerated product development in cross platforms has assured a much larger conversation around Comscore as a viable currency alternative within the advanced TV landscape,” she said.

Now, with Hofstetter and Wiener both gone, is that Comscore’s continued path?

As of Dec. 31, 2018, Comscore assets dipped to $954.14 million from $1.02 billion as another year of hefty net losses clouded steady net revenue growth. For fiscal 2018, Comscore’s net loss was $159.27 million, down from $281.39 million in fiscal 2017. In Q4, Comscore lowered its net loss on a quarterly basis to $27.2 million (46 cents per share), from $71.9 million ($1.25). On a non-GAAP basis, the quarterly net loss dipped to $2.55 million, from $6.42 million.

Further, adjusted EBITDA was $6.28 million, compared to negative $8.15 million in Q4 2017.

With the loss of Hofstetter and Wiener came analyst downgrades. SunTrust‘s Matther Thornton downgraded SCOR to “hold” from “buy” as his price target shrank to $21 from $27. Oppenheimer downgraded Comscore to market perform.

BROUGHT ON BOARD

Irwin Gotlieb, Joanne Bradford and Kathi Love are now on Comscore’s board of directors.

Who are they? Gotlieb has been a senior advisor to WPP and was formerly the global chief executive officer and chairman of GroupM. Bradford is CMO of Social Finance Inc. (SoFi) and previously led global commercial and content partnerships, platform adoption and monetization efforts at Pinterest.

Love served as President/CEO of international consumer data firm GfK MRI for 13 years. She also founded Motherwell Resources, a consulting and executive coaching firm in which she is currently active.

Brent Rosenthal continues as Comscore’s board chairman. He said on Sunday, “We believe today’s appointments will serve to credentialize our strategy, improve our customer traction, accelerate our growth and drive long-term shareholder value. Dale, together with the board, has made meaningful contributions to our operating strategy. As Dale works more closely with our dedicated employees and board, we believe he will optimize our operations and accelerate our path to profitability.”

Fuller said, “I am excited to lead Comscore at such a dynamic time in our industry. We are uniquely positioned to become the modern currency in an evolving media ecosystem based on our unique data assets, differentiated data analytics, and strong brand equity. I look forward to working with our talented team to advance our mission of helping grow businesses in the cross-platform era.”

Comscore expects to announce its Q1 2019 earnings results in the first half of May. Revenue in the quarter is projected to be between $100 million and $104 million.

It did not note if another steep quarterly loss is in the works.