comScores’ Big Acquisition of Rentrak Shifts Measurement’s Tectonic Plates

I have to admit that I was surprised by the news that comScore was acquiring Rentrak. While I expected more consolidation in the media measurement space, I didn't envision that it would be two big players joining forces but rather the continued ingestion of smaller companies by larger companies. But this acquisition is not only a brilliant tactical move, it is also strategic. This might finally move analytics and insights in such a way that the industry shifts from the proxy metric of age and gender and into a more standardize-able cross platform measurement.

The news has caused the otherwise politic and polite “non-competition” between Nielsen and Rentrak to publicly flare up during a panel at Advertising Week. This indicates to me that the measurement space is receiving a boost of attention beyond the usual suspects and even perhaps a needed ‘kick in the pants’ to get long-planned initiatives that are ‘still in the development stage’ out into the industry. I believe that competition is good and even welcomed in the audience measurement space today. It encourages evolution, fresh thinking and experimentation in an industry that is undergoing massive transformation with new challenges (and opportunities) to capture media usage behavior.

The Players
Serge Matta, CEO comScore and Bill Livek, CEO Rentrak released a joint statement in a press release saying, “The time has come to build this measurement system of the present and future, and that’s what the merger of comScore and Rentrak will allow us to do.” At the Rentrak Investors Day meeting this past Thursday, October 01, 2015 Livek announced that the joint efforts of comScore and Rentrak “brings two companies together with complementary assets – products, data, people and innovation. This helps us define the future of measurement.”

Upon the news, Nielsen released an official statement to all media outlets which said, "Nielsen has the only Total Audience measurement, comparable across all screens. All of our data is fully representative of the U.S. population, and we deliver truly independent measurement. 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."

Industry Reactions
The reactions from the industry to the acquisition ran the gamut from elated to resigned. Some who did not want to be quoted for attribution felt that “despite the perceived benefit to the industry of an emerging Nielsen competitor and possible currency expansion to include consumer demos, from a methodological soundness perspective, it's a pretty unholy alliance.” 

But there were many who saw the acquisition as the opportunity for healthy competition and continued industry innovation. Here are a few quotes spanning networks, agencies, measurement companies and organizations:

Geri Wang, President ABC Sales said: “We support all industry initiatives that get us closer to a true cross-platform measurement solution. Increased resources and healthy competition are always positive things and the expertise of these two firms has great potential. We look forward to continuing and growing our relationship with this new enterprise." 

Alan Wurtzel, President of Research and Media Development for NBC Universal said, "Competition in the measurement space offers the opportunity to foster greater innovation among all the players. The introduction of a new measurement service which would offer a different way to crack the cross-platform code would be enormously beneficial to the entire media industry. It can't come too soon."

Colleen Fahey Rush, EVP, Chief Research Officer, Viacom said, "This merger paves the way for innovation in cross platform measurement to capture how audiences are consuming content on every screen and platform."

Howard Shimmel Chief Research Officer, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc said, “We are excited about the announcement and believe that competition is great and sorely needed. In the past, we have been vocal in our belief that there isn’t any one company that solves all of this. Like many in the industry with diverse portfolios, we need two different cross platform measurements – for a network like CNN, we need to accurately measure total reach across all platforms, including TV, Digital and Mobile. comScore offers that now and our hope is that the product gets better with the Rentrak data. But we still need the ability to see individual shows like “The Last Ship” on TNT and how they perform in live, DVR, C3, VOD, SVOD, which seems to be the focus of the Nielsen Total Audience initiative. Each product has a strength applicable to our business and it may be that we use both services for our insights and sales needs.” 

Dave Morgan, CEO and founder of Simulmedia said, “The comScore/Rentrak merger is certainly good for both of those companies. They gain scale and have a product set that complements each other well. The combined company will get more attention and grow faster than they could have on their own. It’s also good for Nielsen. The merged companies bring more attention into the marketing data and media measurement space and Nielsen will now get credit for the work that they've been doing in cross-platform that the market hasn't noticed. Plus, having a noisier comScore/Rentrak around will give Nielsen more firepower to push back on legacy media clients who may have slowed down some of their attempts to drive more innovation in the past.

Andy Brown, CEO and Chairman, Kantar Media said, “Separately both comScore and Rentrak are good partners in the US and globally. I think the merger of the two companies will only accelerate our current initiatives”  

Brad Adgate, SVP, Research Horizon Media “I think this will be the biggest challenge to Nielsen since AGB rolled out their People Meter sample nearly 30 years ago.” 

Jane Clarke, CEO, Managing Director of the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) said, “CIMM congratulates comScore and Rentrak on their announced merger which will help bring needed competition into the field of cross-platform audience measurement. This area is undergoing significant pressure to innovate in response to quickly evolving consumer content consumption habits.  The proliferation of available measurement options will help innovation.  But at the same time, we cannot have a fractured approach to measurement.  While the technology that companies such as the combined comScore and Rentrak will bring to cross-platform measurement are greatly needed, it is still the cooperation and coordination of our industry that will enable effective measurement systems to be adopted.  CIMM, as the industry’s R&D body to advance cross platform measurement, was created to help foster that communication and cooperation so collectively we can address the needs and challenges that await the industry through a unified approach.”

George Ivie, CEO and Executive Director at Media Rating Council said, “I congratulate both organizations and wish them well. My hope is that comScore/Rentrak will continue to pursue accreditation of their existing products which remain very important, and that they will submit whatever cross-platform products they develop to the MRC process timely.  Project Blueprint (comScore’s initial cross platform measurement project) for example was not submitted to MRC, and there is a clear need to audit/accredit these types of new methods. Notably, the new combined entity clearly has a "big data" heritage but I caution about generalizing all of their data assets as "census."  Some sources are census, such as tag-based impression records (these require other actions such as IVT filtration), but others are not census and require specialized adjustments.”

Gayle Fuguitt, CEO & President ARF said: “We at the ARF issued a measurement mandate over a year ago, challenging the industry to deliver common GRP and ROI Metrics.  A valuable advancement is to see industry leaders like Comscore and Rentrak merge to connect their measurement onto one data management platform instead of relying on advertisers to stitch it together. We know that the fastest growing media are the least well measured today, especially mobile.  Further advancements are needed now in mobile measurement and measurement precision across the board for true GRP and ROI metrics for speed to decisions.”

I think that as an industry we should welcome this new paradigm of Nielsen as established measurement of television now getting into digital and a cross platform service versus comScore/Rentrak as established measurement of digital with TV measurement capabilities via STBs and a cross platform service. May the best solution become the standard!

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