WPP Group Will Stake Up To 20% Claim In ComScore

WPPWPP Group's data management investment division Kantar entered Thursday into a strategic deal globally with online measurement mainstay comScore, which could give it up to 20% equity stake in the company — if all shakes out as planned. Read the full release.

Through the deal, comScore will issue about 5% of its shares in exchange for some of Kantar's global resources, including online audience measurement assets in Europe.

The remaining 15% will manifest in a tender offer at about $46.13 a share, which values WPP's equity stake in comScore at about $300 million, comScore CEO Serge Matta told AdExchanger preceding the company's fourth quarter earnings call Thursday.

The agency holding company entered earlier into a deal earlier in October with Rentrak, which gave it 16.7% ownership in the measurement firm. In turn, Rentrak scored WPP's TV measurement business in the US through Kantar. Earlier, it snagged about a 15% stake in AppNexus in exchange for Open AdStream.

"One thing that's really important is they do not have any special rights as an investor in comScore," Matta emphasized. "They do not have a board seat nor a board observer, and do not get any insider information or preferential treatment."

This observation is critical to comScore's current client set, since competing agency holding companies like Publicis Groupe have deep-seated deals in place with the measurement firm. Starcom MediaVest and ZenithOptimedia, for example, have been historical users of comScore's validated Campaign Essentials (vCE) tool.

"It's extremely important to our business and took over a year to negotiate, because at the end of the day, the reason why we're successful is because we are an independent, third-party measurement system," Matta said. Although he acknowledged WPP's size and scale, he said comScore carefully structured the deal to ensure the investment would not impede current operations.

During comScore's earnings call, analysts were naturally inquisitive about the strategic deal's impact on standing agency relationships.

"I'm not sure how [the deal] wouldn’t hamper your [partnerships] with other agencies, considering you’re no longer Switzerland," remarked Cantor Fitzgerald's Youssef Squali, managing director and global head of Internet and media equity research, during the analyst Q&A.

"I'd disagree — we still are Switzerland here," Matta responded. Yes, WPP's Kantar now has a substantive stake in the company, but "they wanted to ensure we’d remain a completely neutral, objective third party."

ComScore's Video Blitz

One of the factors that underscored the Kantar investment was comScore's heightened push into video and TV measurement and, subsequently, WPP's move into offering more marketing tech services.

ComScore recently rolled out cross-platform video measurement, an extension of a prior release of its Media Metrix Multi-Platform product.

ComScore now has 506 customers running its cross-platform tool with approximately two-thirds buying also its mobile and video extensions to broaden their measurement capabilities. Rapid adoption (comScore cited close to 50 net new customers for MMX Multi-Platform in Q4) helped contribute to comScore's net revenue increase of 19% in the fourth quarter to $89.1 million.

ComScore said 79 video publishers (including broadcasters like ESPN, NBCUniversal and ABC) are presently tagging their digital properties for the Video Metrix Multi-Platform beta test. Essentially the goal is to provide advertisers unduplicated audience measurement for video viewing across all devices. A more complete product will be generally released in the coming quarter.

"We're continuing to sharpen our expansion of cross-media offerings globally, and will integrate comScore data into places clients need them including programmatic platforms and client workflow tools," Matta said. "That was part of the rationale behind the WPP Kantar alliance, which is dramatically expanding our addressable market and growth opportunity."

Although Rentrak now has stake in Kantar's US-based TV assets, comScore will primarily focus on Kantar's TV and audience and campaign-based measurement assets in non-US markets, so at least at face value, there wouldn't be much crossover.

Google, vCE And comScore

Also revealed on comScore's quarterly call was an extension to comScore's vCE deal with DoubleClick, which it announced with Google at the IAB Annual Leadership meeting last February.

Initially, comScore would bake vCE measurement for desktop and video into DoubleClick in the US, but Google will soon add mobile vCE and global support for that integration within the next few months.

"Another big addition is viewability, which is not yet included in the vCE service for DoubleClick," Matta said. At present, measurement is limited to audience-targeting, but Google, unsurprisingly, will plow ahead with deeper metrics around viewability.

Separately, comScore is beefing up involvement in inventory quality assessments, recently announcing an initiative it's calling "Trust Profiles." Programmatic ad platforms like MediaMath, Rubicon Project, Turn, The Trade Desk and Eyereturn Marketing will have access to these profiles, which score and rank publishers based on non-human traffic and viewability variables, with more platform integrations to come.

"The industry 'Trust' program is about bringing media metrix, viewability/fraud measurement, brand safety and demographic [measurements] into one platform and then integrating them into programmatic platforms pre-bid to help with the planning process," Matta said.

 

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