News Column

Arbitron Commits To Language-Preference Weighting

November 15, 2002

Frank Saxe

As they met with Hispanic broadcasters in Los Angeles this week, Arbitron has revealed it intends to switch to a weighting system based on language preference. The announcement comes amid a two-day session filled with Hispanic broadcasterís frustrations with the current system. Following a disastrous summer ratings book, many Spanish-language operators say Arbitronís current methodology does not accurately credit their stations.

While an implementation date has not been set, Arbitron is designing the project plan for the software modifications it needs to use language preference as an additional variable in the tabulation of radio audience estimates in Hispanic markets. An announcement on the timing and other details of the project plan is expected early next year, but it canít come soon enough for many.

"They definitely need to do it," says Laura Kush, manager of ethnic broadcast at Haworth Marketing & Media in Los Angeles. Among the clients she buys for are Target and Mervins. The recently completed summer survey is proof that change is needed she says.

"You canít lose 20 percent of your audience in one book."

Arbitron president Owen Charlebois calls the change an incremental enhancement of its radio ratings service.

"Weighting by language preference would allow stations and advertisers that target specific segments in the Hispanic community to reach those consumers more effectively," says Charlebois, adding he still has "a great deal of confidence" in the quality of their current ratings system.

In its current ratings methodology, Arbitron uses age/sex, geography, and in some markets, race/ethnicity as weighting variables in its local market radio ratings. Weighting is a standard statistical technique that is used to compensate for any over-sampling or under-sampling of a particular demographic characteristic in the returned diaries that are used to tabulate audience estimates.

Under the planned changes, Arbitron would begin using language-preference weighting dividing the Hispanic sample into two language-preference groups. One would include Spanish-dominant listeners, and the other would be non-Spanish-dominant. Arbitron would weight the returned diaries for each of these groups against a pre-determined estimate of the language preference of the Hispanic population in each market.

Arbitronís move follows a move by Nielsen Media Research that it will begin weighting TV audience samples by language preference in six of its markets at the end of the year. Starting the week of December 30, ratings for Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, San Antonio and San Diego will factor in each marketís large Spanish-speaking population.

Before the language-preference weighting can begin, Arbitron will first need to determine the benchmark or "universe" for the language preference of Hispanics in local markets. Because the U.S. Census cannot be used as the source for language preference of Hispanics in the United States, Arbitron is looking at ways to come up with that number.

"Thereís going to be a lot of posturing and negotiations going on in the next six months," says Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association.

Nationally, about 2 percent of ad dollars go into Spanish-language media, although 13 percent of the population is Hispanic. In Los Angeles, $900 million was spent on radio advertising in 2001, with $145 million going to Spanish-language stations, according to SCBA.

The shift toward weighted ratings does more than just give buyers and planners more confidence in the numbers they are use, it could also mean bigger budgets for Hispanic stations.

"Our budgets are too small and we should be spending more money in Spanish media," says Kush. "If we have more reliable numbers it may help us to convince clients to advertise in Spanish."

That could be tough, however, since she says it took 12 ratings books before advertisers believed that Spanish-language KLAX could top the radio ratings.

"In the long run, it will effect the [ad budget] numbers, but initially thatís not going to happen. These still are Spanish budgets."

Source: MediaPost

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