SPSS, AOL Aim to Dominate Web Survey Business

Analytical software giant SPSS is teaming up with AOL Time Warner to deliver what they hope is the killer app for consumer research.

Under an agreement between the two firms, Chicago-based SPSS and its SPSS MR division — which provides analysis technology for market research — now has the exclusive rights to distribute survey data from AOL’s OpinionPlace Web site.

As a result, SPSS MR effectively becomes a one-stop-shop for market research and analysis, being able to sell not only analysis services, but also the raw survey data itself — which clients previously could get only by contracting with separate survey or panel vendors.

Already, as the leading provider of analysis technology to market research consultancies, SPSS MR controls about 70 percent of the research analysis business. The firm also seeks to become a major vendor of data, thanks to its access to OpinionPlace, a survey site to which AOL steers Web visitors and the more than 31 million members of its America Online flagship service.

SPSS is paying heavily for exclusive rights to AOL’s data — about $42 million over four years. However, the agreement comes with a built-in client roster that could serve to cushion the expense: SPSS immediately will take over administering OpinionPlace data from AOL’s Digital Marketing Services subsidiary, which previously maintained the site. Additionally, SPSS MR will be able to sell its original analysis services to those firms as well.

New York-based AOL Time Warner, meanwhile, gains an expanded distribution channel for its research. The company’s DMS subsidiary has been driving visitors to OpinionPlace for about six years, and so far has clients including Ipsos-ASI, Custom Research Inc., M/A/R/C Research and Roper Starch Worldwide. But now, AOL is looking to provide research to SPSS MR’s wider customer base.

“As we look forward to the continued growth of the online research industry, we wanted to partner with a company that had the muscle that SPSS offered,” said DMS president and chief executive Dennis Gonier during a conference call with the press and analysts. That “would help us … open it up to the industry beyond our current partners, and therefore make a successful business proposition and an important strategic move for the entire marketing research industry.”

Meanwhile, executives from both SPSS and AOL painted the agreement as a win not just for the firms, but for the research industry at large — citing online research’s ability to deliver data cheaper than traditional methods.

“We know that online research is critical to the success of the marketing research industry,” Gonier said. “It’s more convenient, it’s more rewarding for customers, it’s faster for our clients, and it’s more cost-effective in getting work done.”

Additionally, SPSS said that clients would benefit from seeing savings associated with using one vendor, as opposed to two or more.

“For many market research firms, this partnership makes Web research a viable option for the first time, because it makes both sample research and technological infrastructure readily available,” said SPSS president and chief executive Jack Noonan during the call. “This capability opens up significant opportunities to grow their business. In short, this agreement advances the online market research industry.”

Despite being able to offer access to consumer surveys as well as the technology to analyze such research, SPSS said it wouldn’t cross the line into providing consulting services.

“This is not a move … on SPSS’s part to go into the consulting business,” said chief financial officer Ed Amberg. “We’re not going to be competing with the market research customers that we serve. We will be providing value-added services to them … not going into the survey business ourselves.”

Nevertheless, a few conflicts of interest might be in store with clients that maintain their own survey groups. One of SPSS MR’s analytics clients is NFO Infratest, a unit of Interpublic’s NFO WorldGroup — which runs its own online research panels.

News Around the Web