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Media research companies continue to flourish; accuracy is key.

Politicians are said to use statistics the way drunks use lamp posts:for support rather than illumination. Christopher S. Wren, The New York Times

It seems that more and more entertainment companies are relying on media research companies for their industry forecasts and information. The fact that the entertainment industry is such big business today and drives the stock market around the world (in the U.K., media ranks fourth on the stock market) is reason enough for companies to have a demand for such information.

Entertainment studios rely on research reports, and investment bankers use the reports to keep their clients informed. Most research firms have built Web sites on the Internet, making it easier to access information. Profound is one of many market analysis and information databases on the Internet. The news aggregator has alliances with more than 4,000 publishers offering more than 45,000 research reports and more than 60,000 analyst and broker reports. The service subscribes to and sorts through the information for the client. It competes with other online information businesses like the Mead Corporation's Lexis/Nexis and Knight Ridder's Dialogue. According to Profound's Christopher Karwowski, sectors that use the Web site include advertising and media companies as well as entertainment companies (which use the service for market analysis).

The big question is, how accurate is the research? With a proliferation of research companies, it's a good bet that one firm will give you the kind of information a client wants to hear.

Dave Davis works for investment banker Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, which advises entertainment companies on value issues such as how much a library of product is worth to a distributor. Before he came to the company, Davis worked as an advisor at media research firm Paul Kagan & Associates for six years. "I know the research business. It's a tricky business. As investment bankers, we need to be right on the mark with our information and try to find the truth," commented Davis. "So many people in the entertainment arena use this information selectively to serve a purpose, such as selling something at a higher price. There's a lot of vested interest and a lot of research firms that can provide the information you want to hear." According to Davis, that's the problem: there is no quality control. Some research firms provide inaccurate information, and people rely on researchers. There are no guidelines for accuracy. "You just hope that it's right," said Davis. "I personally think Baskerville is the best research company. Remember, there are different levels of research, too. Ratings, ad spend, is a secondary sector. Since I know how these companies operate, I can scrutinize better."

Davis subscribes to a number of services and pays attention to some. He deals with a number of the top studios, distributors, producers, communications companies and cable system operators. He said he can't emphasize enough the importance of learning what information is reliable. "If a research company is constantly off the mark with your results, you obviously cancel them out. There is a lot of misinformation, which can lead to bad situations in the marketplace. If people think the market is going a certain way and it doesn't, you lose. It is very difficult sometimes to prove accuracy or inaccuracy. It can cause confusion, since there are no checks and balances," Davis concluded.

Adam Smith at Zenith Media in the U.K. said that Zenith is not really a research company. "Our first objective is to buy media," he asserted. "All of our media research statistics are in the public domain, so we basically do published research. We compete with Baskerville," commented Smith. He noted that most of Zenith's clients are financial companies and media companies but that it also deals with some advertising agencies. One can buy Zenith's research in book form; the price ranges from pounds 30 to pounds 40 per book. "We don't do research by the project," stated Smith. "Most of our customers prefer the books. And we have yet to digitize the information for CD-ROM," he added. Interestingly, Smith felt that, in the audience research/ad field, research companies are not proliferating but consolidating; he cited as evidence Nielsen's recent purchase of Survey Research, which covers Southeast Asia.

According to Simon Murray, research director at Baskerville, Baskerville's clientele depends on the content of the research report. For example, an Asia Pacific report would appeal to investors in cable, satellite, etc. Baskerville produces some 18 books, six newsletters, a daily fax and an Internet entertainment report. Many film and TV distributors buy the newsletters, three of which are published through marketing agreements with industry trade publications. One studio executive who deals with home video admitted that the newsletters are only good for getting an overview of the industry, while specialized reports are better for industry-specific information. Individual reports usually cost about $1,000. Gary Marenzi, now president of Paramount International Television, said that while he was at MGM the company used research reports. However, he added: "we also read a lot of the trades and used some different sources as well. Of course we crosscheck[ed] everything with our in-house research."

Media Research Firms

* Baskerville Communications (U.K.)

* European Institute for the Media (Germany)

* Information Est Publicite (France)

* Mediametrie (Eurodata) (France)

* Nielsen (U.S.)

* Observatory in Paris (France)

* Paul Kagan & Associates (U.S.)

* Phillips Business Publishing (U.S.)

* Television Research Group (Latin America Television Statistics)

* Veronis, Suhler & Associates (U.S.)

* Zenith Media (U.K.)
COPYRIGHT 1997 TV Trade Media, Inc.
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Dinerman, Ann S.
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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