Comscore and its former chief executive Serge Matta were charged Tuesday by federal authorities with engaging in a fraudulent scheme to overstate the company’s revenue by approximately $50 million and making false and misleading statements about key performance metrics.
Comscore, a company that claims to measure media audiences for entertainment companies and advertisers, has agreed to pay a $5 million fine to settle the charges.
The fraud and false claims charges are particularly notable because Comscore is in the business of providing information and analytics about media and entertainment companies.
The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in orders made public Tuesday that from February 2014 through February 2016, Comscore, at the direction of its former CEO Serge Matta, entered into deals to exchange sets of data without cash consideration but recognized revenue on the fair value of the data received. This had the effect of improperly inflating the company’s revenue, according to the SEC.
The SEC’s said that Comscore and Matta made false and misleading disclosures regarding the company’s customer base and flagship product and that Matta lied to Comscore’s internal accountants and external audit firm. As a result, Comscore artificially exceeded analyst estimates for revenues in seven consecutive quarters, creating an illusion of smooth and steady growth, the SEC alleged.
Melissa R. Hodgman, Associate Director in the SEC’s Enforcement Division:
As the SEC orders find, Comscore and its former CEO manipulated the accounting for non-monetary and other transactions in an effort to chase revenue targets and deceive investors about the performance of Comscore’s business. We will continue to hold issuers and executives accountable for such serious breaches of their fundamental duty to make accurate disclosures to the investing public while giving appropriate credit for a company’s prompt remedial acts and cooperation.
Comscore settled the charges without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, agreeing to cease-and-desist from future violations of the antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws and to pay penalties of $5 million. Matta, also without admitting or denying the charges, agreed to pay $700,000 and to reimburse Comscore $2.1 million representing profits from the sale of Comscore stock and incentive-based compensation. He also agreed to an order barring him from serving as an officer or director of a public company for ten years.