The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged media measurement firm Comscore and its former CEO Serge Matta for engaging in a fraudulent scheme to overstate revenue by $50 million and by making false and misleading statements about its performance. The company and Matta entered a settlement with the SEC without admitting wrongdoing.
Comscore was recently considered as a potential challenger to industry giant Nielsen in attempts to measure audiences across different platforms, including TV and digital. That accurate measurement across different platforms is considered a major challenge for advertisers.
But the company has struggled recently. Its new CEO, Bryan Wiener, left in March after less than a year at the company, and was joined by president Sarah Hofstetter. Those struggles follow the Wall Street Journal reporting years ago that Comscore had a practice of recording "nonmonetary revenue" for data-swapping deals with other companies, and the SEC saying it was investigating several allegations against the company.
The SEC announced the charges and settlement Tuesday. It said between 2014 and 2016, the company under CEO Serge Matta "entered into non-monetary transactions for the purpose of improperly increasing its reported revenue."
"The SEC's orders also find that Comscore and Matta made false and misleading public disclosures regarding the company's customer base and flagship product and that Matta lied to Comscore's internal accountants and external audit firm," the organization said in a release. "This scheme enabled Comscore to artificially exceed its analysts' consensus revenue target in seven consecutive quarters and create the illusion of smooth and steady growth in Comscore's business."
Comscore and Matta agreed to settle the charges without admitting or denying the SEC's findings, the release said.
"Comscore and Matta agreed to cease-and-desist from future violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and to pay penalties of $5 million and $700,000, respectively," the release said. "Matta also agreed to reimburse Comscore $2.1 million" for profits from the sale of Comscore stock and incentive-based compensation.
In a statement, Comscore Chairman Brent Rosenthal characterized the settlement as resolving a "legacy issue" and interim CEO Dale Fuller said, "Comscore remains focused on its next phase of growth in order to drive profits and maximize shareholder value."
Correction: Due to an editing error, this story originally misstated the month in which former CEO Bryan Wiener left. It was March 2019.