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Getting a Handle on Hispanic Households

Mar 29, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Given their penchant for industry jargon, media planners have long been accused of speaking another language. But lately, they actually have been speaking another language: Spanish.
With the rapid rise of Hispanics in the U.S. population, and the corresponding shift of marketing budgets earmarked for Hispanic consumers, media agencies have begun joint-venturing with or opening up dedicated multicultural media buying and planning units to develop media strategies aimed at Spanish-speaking consumers. At the same time, their general market planning departments are increasingly being asked to substantiate how well their plans reach English-speaking Hispanics. The problem, they say, is that some of those plans are being lost in translation because of the way Nielsen currently measures Hispanic TV viewers.
“If we have a Hispanic plan, we know that some of our general market TV is reaching Hispanics and we know some Hispanics are being reached by Spanish-language TV, but we really don’t know what the duplication is between those two things,” said Alan Rovitzky, VP and associate director of strategic insights for MediaCom Worldwide.
The problem, he said, is that Nielsen currently maintains separate ratings panels for Hispanics and for the general TV marketplace, making it difficult if not impossible for media planners to estimate the actual reach and frequency of their media buys across Spanish- and English-language TV options for reaching Hispanics.
“With better research we can do a better job of targeting our messages to our clients’ Spanish- and English-speaking consumers,” Mr. Rovitzky said.
That, of course, is what Nielsen hopes to accomplish through a series of moves designed to improve its overall audience ratings database, including Hispanics. But one key step in that process-a plan to begin weighting Nielsen’s ratings to bring them into balance with the U.S. population for certain underrepresented demographics, including Hispanics-has taken longer than expected and continues to spark debates among Nielsen clients.
The weighting process was implemented for other demos beginning with the 2003-04 TV season, but Nielsen delayed its implementation for Spanish-speaking viewers until the start of the 2004-05 season to allow the TV industry to better prepare for the changes. Even though the impact of Spanish-language weighting will amount to only “tenths of a rating point,” according to Nielsen Chief Research Officer Paul Donato, it is expected to be enough to meaningfully impact the amount of advertising dollars planned for some TV outlets.
“It’s going to be a new type of ratings erosion for some of them,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of research at Horizon Media.
While Nielsen is set to make the move this fall, a new debate has been sparked by the release of a white paper by the prestigious Media Ratings Council. That report concluded that the way Nielsen plans to weight its ratings-by households as opposed to the characteristics of individuals residing in those households-is flawed, and not just for Hispanics but for any of the demographic characteristics for which it has already begun weighting.
The implications of the MRC report were enough to make it a major focus of a meeting held recently between the media research committee of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and Nielsen’s Mr. Donato.
“It’s complicated,” Horizon’s Mr. Adgate said, “because households-even Hispanic households-are not as homogenous as you may think. Some members of the household speak Spanish. Some-generally the younger members-speak English. And some shift back and forth. So to say a household speaks Spanish may be a misnomer.”
Mr. Donato acknowledges that weighting by individuals may be a better way to go, but notes that there hasn’t been any research conducted yet on the impact of that process.
“Philosophically, we believe that persons-based weighting can be a more effective way, but quite frankly, no one has done research on it,” Mr. Donato said, adding the caveat, “Just because you can think of a step that would be more of an improvement doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a step that will get you at least part of the way forward.”
He said the MRC report will not derail Nielsen’s household weighting plans for this fall, but added that Nielsen will begin exploring other options.
“[Weighting] is not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Ceril Shagrin, senior VP of corporate research at Univision, the largest player in the U.S. Spanish-language TV marketplace. “But it should not be looked at as a long-term solution.”
In fact, weighting was always seen by Nielsen and others as an interim measure to adjust for ratings distortions until Nielsen could take the steps necessary to improve its TV audience sample to make it truly representative of the U.S. population.
But it was another recent Nielsen move-its decision to delay the rollout of People Meters in Chicago and Los Angeles-that has caused Madison Avenue to really fret.
“We’re actually a little worried about Nielsen’s plans to push back the Local People Meter markets,” MediaCom’s Mr. Rovitzky said. “The sooner we can get to one sample, the better off everyone will be.”
Nielsen executives said the delay will amount to only a few months, but agency executives are fearful that further infighting among Nielsen’s clients-particularly entrenched broadcasters in the Local People Meter markets-might derail the situation.
In announcing its Los Angeles delay, Nielsen acknowledged that it was at least partly due to the difficulty of building a representative sample in such an ethnically “complex” market.
But it was Nielsen’s decision to move forward with an April 8 launch date for People Meters in New York that caused News Corp. to raise a red flag, asserting that Local People Meters “undercount” viewing in the DMA by as much as 25 percent, especially among minority groups, particularly African Americans.
“Until Nielsen can prove the accuracy of its numbers, particularly in counting young and African American viewers, we risk implementing a seriously flawed system,” Lachlan Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer of News Corp. and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group, said last week in a statement following Nielsen’s announcement.
Agency executives said they don’t know where News Corp. got its figures, that they believe Nielsen is taking the necessary steps to draw a valid sample and that the People Meter itself represents a vast improvement over New York’s current set-meter/ diary system. More important, they said, the quicker Nielsen can deploy Local People Meter markets and integrate them into its national sample expansion plan, the better off everyone will be.
To date, through a combination of the Local People Meter system in Boston and additional national households it has been adding, Nielsen has increased its national People Meter sample to 5,500 homes, up from its original base of 5,000. By 2006, when it introduces the last of its Local People Meter markets, Atlanta, Nielsen plans to have an effective national sample of 10,000 People Meter households. At that level, Univision’s Ms. Shagrin believes Nielsen will have a big enough sample to accurately measure Hispanic household viewing, removing the need for a separate Hispanic sample and service.
A lesser-known benefit of the sample expansion will be a bigger and more representative sample of African American households, which will account for 12 percent of Nielsen’s 10,000-household sample in 2006, enough to make ratings stable for even relatively low-rated programs and networks aimed at African Americans. That is expected to be another boon to multicultural media planning and to shift general market advertising budgets toward ethnic media buys.