Comscore, a company that vies with Nielsen to measure media audiences for entertainment companies and advertisers, has paid a $5 million settlement related to charges it overstated revenue and made false statements about performance under a previous CEO.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday that the company and its former CEO, Serge 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." Matta also agreed to reimburse Comscore $2.1 million representing profits from the sale of Comscore stock and other compensation.
"We are pleased to have settled this legacy issue with the SEC," said Brent Rosenthal, chairman of Comscore's board, in a statement. "In addition to our commitment to compliance and with this matter behind us, the Board and I remain fully focused on the business and are committed to further developing our unique data assets, differentiated data analytics, and strong brand equity."
Comscore has grappled with the SEC probe since March of 2016. The SEC said the company and Matta engaged "in a fraudulent scheme to overstate revenue by approximately $50 million."
Investigators found that Matta had directed the company between February 2014 through February 2016 to enter into what it called "non monetary transactions" that would increase reported revenue. "Through these transactions, Comscore and a counterparty would negotiate and agree to exchange sets of data without any cash consideration," the SEC said. "Comscore recognized revenue on these transactions based on the fair value of the data it delivered, which had been improperly increased in order to inflate revenue."
The measurement firm has gained traction in recent years by positioning itself as an alternative to Nielsen, and has made inroads in both box-office tracking and measurement of local-TV audiences. At the same time, it has been buffeted by headwinds. In addition to the SEC investigation, Comscore has been seeking stability in its top office. In March, the company parted ways with its CEO, Bryan Wiener, and its president, Sarah Hofstetter, two well-known advertising executives. They had been brought in to bring calm to the corporation in the wake of the accounting imbroglio.
Comscore said that the SEC had considered its cooperation with the probe, as well as its decision to bring in a new management team.
Comscore and Matta did not admit to or deny the SEC findings.