Portland's Rentrak is one of the city's larger tech companies, though it has a relatively low profile in this city, despite the prominent building it occupies on the way to the Portland Airport. That may change with the announcement today that the firm would merge with Comscore, a giant in the digital media world, in a deal that values Rentrak at $732 million, eclipsing the much ballyhooed sale of Elemental Technologies to Amazon earlier this month.
It's an interesting twist for a company that was on life support less than 15 years ago.
Originally, the company was in the business of video rental and leasing but completely reinvented itself as a firm that measures consumer behavior around the viewing of movies and TV.
Rentrak, which counts 350 people in its Portland office, has been able to capitalize on the massive shift occurring in how we watch TV. It's no secret that more and more people watch shows via their set top boxes and DVRs hours or even days after they've aired live. Through relationships with digital TV providers such as DirecTV and Dish Network, Rentrak has information advertisers use to figure out what shows to buy based on demographic data associated with households watching particular shows.
Even political advertisers have caught on, including President Obama's 2012 campaign which became known for its innovative use of data – some from Rentrak – for buying TV ads aimed at key voter segments. Earlier this year, Rentrak hired Obama for America's former director of integration and media analytics, Carol Davidsen, to help guide its political business. Expect any presidential campaign and many statewide campaigns in 2016 to be using Rentrak data.
The company could have fizzled in the '80s when it still had to compete with video rental giants like Blockbuster. But in a move that today could be seen as quite prescient, the company began packaging the information it had about which flicks were big in the video and DVD rental and sales market. In recent years, Rentrak has become a darling of the digital ad industry, garnering a key investment in 2014 from one of the world's largest ad buying holding companies WPP, which currently owns a 16.7% stake in Rentrak. Tycoon Mark Cuban owned Rentrak stock for awhile; he divested around 773,000 shares at $62.75 per share in May.
On Wednesday, Rentrak CEO Bill Livek will be among the firm's execs ringing the bell at NASDAQ headquarters in Times Square, New York City, where an annual convention of ad execs known as Advertising Week served as a backdrop for the merger announcement.
Today's data-centric approach to television ad buying is completely altering the once-stodgy world of advertising. By combining Rentrak's information with comScore's online audience data, the two companies aim to create a new way to buy and sell TV spots and other ad formats like video.
"We're building the next iPhone here in media measurement," said Livek, who will serve as executive vice chairman and president of the combined company. The deal is subject to regulatory approval, expected early next year.
Livek and comScore CEO Serge Matta both suggested the deal will bring more jobs to Portland. "We're a big employer in Portland and that will continue and continue to grow," Livek told Willamette Week. "Portland attracts young talent that wants to live an outdoor lifestyle," he said.