ComScore Plans Initial Public Offering

By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 2007

ComScore, a Reston firm that measures Internet traffic and analyzes consumer behavior online, yesterday registered to raise up to $86.2 million in an initial public offering.

Comscore has not yet determined the number of shares or the price range for the proposed IPO, which will by sold by the company and certain shareholders, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The firm will use the proceeds for expansion and possible acquisitions.

After launching in 1999 and raising $88 million in venture capital funding over the next four years, ComScore has become the main rival in Internet audience ratings to Nielsen-NetRatings, which went public in 1999.

The firm uses massive databases and specialized software to monitor how a sample of 2 million consumers use the Internet, including where they spend money, what Web sites they visit and how long they stay there. Media companies and online retailers often use such data to help track their audiences and target advertisers.

Analysts said the IPO is a natural step for ComScore at a time when Internet advertising is growing at a rate of nearly 30 percent a year. But the online measurement market is becoming increasingly crowded with companies trying to quantify traffic and Web-surfing patterns.

Firms such as Omniture, WebTrends and WebSideStory, all publicly traded, provide information to Web site owners about what people do during their visit, and Web developers are coming up with their own ways of tracking audiences.

Both ComScore and Nielsen-NetRatings have been criticized by clients and analysts for unreliable numbers that frequently do not match up.

"If you compare ComScore's numbers with Nielsen-NetRatings', it's often surprising how different the measurements would be, even though they are measuring the same things," said Alan S. Gould, an analyst with Natexis Bleichroeder, a New York investment bank.

But for sites trying to lure advertisers and tout popularity, "they're the best numbers out there," he said. "You need some kind of measurement, and they're independent."

ComScore's plan to go public comes two months after Nielsen-NetRatings announced it expects to return to private ownership. Nielsen-NetRatings plans to merge with a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nielsen Co., which already owns 60 percent of its outstanding common stock. The merger would result in Nielsen Co. owning all of Nielsen-NetRatings.

In 2006, ComScore said it generated $66.3 million in revenue and a $5.7 million in net income, the first profit in the company's history. It plans to be listed on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol "SCOR."

Credit Suisse Securities will manage the sale with help from Deutsche Bank Securities; William Blair & Co.; Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group; and Jefferies & Co.

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