It's a small field, but one that is key to the decision-makers who determine the fate of national and syndicated TV shows. It encompasses the handful of companies that provide software to analyze TV viewing data.
The field is populated by three "third-party processors" that juggle Nielsen Media Research data for clients including TV networks, syndicators and movie studios. Besides Nielsen, the other providers of software that take on this otherwise daunting task are Snap Software Inc. and Audience Analysis Inc. (AAI).
The software is "an important tool for management here," says John Ferlazzo, vice president of research for Pearson Television, which syndicates Baywatch and Family Feud. He uses Snap as "an easy way to manipulate the [Nielsen ratings] numbers on a local-market level" as well as to project a show's potential national ratings.
Without the software, "it would take forever" to analyze data that way, Ferlazzo says.
Besides Pearson, Snap's clients include CBS, Paramount, Belo, Universal Studios and Twentieth Television, according to company President George Gubert. Snap, which analyzes sweeps numbers only, is owned by Cox Enterprises Inc.
"The data that comes from Nielsen is not in a form that people can use," Gubert says, in explaining why his company was formed in 1987. "Prior to Snap, everyone did everything by hand."
"Nielsen's best aptitude is to collect the numbers, not necessarily to analyze the numbers," says Andy Eshkar, president of AAI. With his company's software, called WRAP, for Windows Rating Analysis Programs, clients can do "just about everything," from examining a show's performance in just one market to preparing cross-market averages.
Eshkar claims to have "cornered the overnights" since WRAP came on the market in 1992.
Nielsen says its Profile and Navigator software in some ways competes with WRAP and Snap. Clients may use another service, along with Nielsen's Galaxy, because they "may want to look at the data differently," Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus says.
Between them, Profile and Navigator massage the whole spectrum of data, from local to national numbers and overnight ratings to sweeps data, Loftus says. In addition, Nielsen can track individual viewers, a service that "no one else can duplicate," and Navigator includes cable data.