The entrepreneur who made the Glens Falls area “The Television Listing Capital of the World” has died.
James West, who founded TV Data Technologies, a predecessor of Nielsen Media in Queensbury, died Dec. 2 at age 81.
Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall said West sometimes ate lunch at Sam’s Diner on Dix Avenue, which Hall also frequented.
“He would sit at the counter and we would have brief discussions,” Hall said. “He had done a lot in his lifetime and was enjoyable to talk to.”
TV Data, founded in 1965, and local competitor Tribune Media Services, founded in 1982, combined, controlled about two-thirds of the television listings industry in 2001, when the two firms consolidated.
Nielsen Media, a successor company on Media Drive in Queensbury, is still a leader in the specialized information technology field and employs about 350 people.
“The impact that Mr. West had was profound,” said Michael Bittel, president and chief executive officer of Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Due to Mr. West and his innovation, hundreds and thousands of people have been employed over the years.”
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West had a quick wit and an inquisitive nature, always looking to stay abreast of what was developing on the local business scene.
“He loved to talk — sometimes he’d find himself six conversations away from where he started,” said Queensbury Third Ward Councilman George Ferone, a retired Tribune Media Services executive. “He was a very likable guy.”
A Nov. 12, 1993 New York Times report about TV Data and Tribune Media Services began: “This small city on the banks for the Hudson River (Glens Falls) is the world capital of television program listings.”
Local chamber of commerce and economic development officials co-opted the line, and began calling Glens Falls “The Television Listing Capital of the World.”
The New York Times report also called West “the father of television program listings.”
West, of Queensbury, established TV Data in 1965 somewhat by happenstance.
The young Westchester County native who spent summers at Dunham’s Bay on Lake George growing up, and relocated to Queensbury in 1963, was publishing a weekly television-listings guide that was distributed for free in supermarkets.
West had the guides printed at The Register-Star, a daily newspaper in Hudson, in Columbia County.
One day, the publisher of The Register-Star offered to pay West $50 a week — the equivalent of about $443 in 2021 dollars — if West would provide the newspaper with the information he collected, saving the newspaper the cost of having its staff compile the information.
A light bulb went on in West’s brain. If one newspaper would pay him to provide the information, there must be hundreds of other newspapers that would pay him to do the same.
Before long, West was out of the publishing business and into the information technology business.
West told The Post-Star in 1975 that TV Data could provide newspapers with the information for about 25% of the cost compared to if newspapers had to have staff compile the information.
Over time, the industry diversified into other types of entertainment information, such as movie listings, and catered to other customers with cable television program guides and websites.
The industry also developed specialized services such as providing information to lawyers to document alibis of clients who said they were watching a certain television program at a certain time, and compiling information for the American Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers, or ASCAP.
West sold TV Data to the United Features Syndicate of E.W. Scripps Co. in 1975, but continued to manage the company until 1981.
TV Data moved from the Northway Plaza in Queensbury to the CNA building (now Monument Square) in Glens Falls in the late 1990s.
West later established, or worked as a consultant to, other information technology companies.
One of the companies he later established compiled stock listing information for newspapers.
West once said that he was good at conceiving ideas and bringing them to fruition, but once he brought in outside investors or owners, he was not good at taking orders from others.
In 1982, Ted Zoli, a former TV Data executive, established a competing television listing service in Queensbury, which eventually became a division of Tribune Media Services.
For nearly two decades, TV Data would focus on weekly and small city daily newspapers, while Tribune Media would focus on major metropolitan newspapers.
“In the heyday, they were major competitors for many years,” Ferone said.
In 2001, Tribune Media Service bought controlling interest in TV Data, and consolidated the two companies under the Tribune Media name.
Tribute Media combined its local operations in 2008 at a newly constructed office complex on Media Drive, near Exit 18 of the Northway.
The local operation later used the name Gracenote, until it was sold to Nielsen, the television ratings company.