News Column

Spanish Radio Keeps the Heat on Arbitron

November 26, 2002

Frank Saxe

The fallout from the Los Angeles summer ratings book, which reported the lowest level of Spanish radio listening in years, shows no signs of letting up. Following a high-level summit with representatives of the radio ratings firm Arbitron earlier this month, the big four Hispanic radio groups have launched an offensive in an attempt to speed the adoption of a weighted ratings methodology.

Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation, Spanish Broadcasting Systems, Entravision Communications and Radio Unica Communications are typically fierce competitors, but the four have set aside their differences to form a coalition whose purpose is to making changes to the Spanish ratings system.

"We believe Arbitron's survey methodology is defective," says Bill Tanner, EVP Programming for Spanish Broadcasting System. "And much the same way as other industries are forced to recall defective products, Arbitron should recall its current methodology or immediately move to correct it."

During meetings at the swank St. Regis in Century City two weeks ago, Arbitron announced its plans to convert to a weighting system based on language preference. An implementation date has not been set as Arbitron develops the needed software. While an announcement on the timing is expected early next year, there is an heir of frustration.

"It is inconceivable that Arbitron will be able to make good on its promise to begin weighting language preference for radio listening without a defined timeline. The economics of radio are built around a system of ratings and audience delivery information that must meet an acceptable level of credibility and right now that isn't happening," says Entravision Radio president Jeffery Liberman.

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.

Spanish-language radio broadcasters want other changes too.

"Arbitron needs to expand their sample sizes and weight their results against the population in order to properly reflect the Hispanic market. It is as simple as that," says Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation senior VP and chief operating officer Gary Stone, who adds, "Arbitron needs to begin this weighting process sooner, not later."

Arbitron is, however, in a tough spot. It must convince the industry its current methodology is not flawed; else they'll be bombarded for rebates. Yet at the same time, even its top research experts candidly agree that there is a connection between language preference of the survey respondent and their radio listening behavior.

Arbitron also revealed that an independent outside research firm it hired found problems similar to those mentioned by Hispanic radio operators. Specifically, it determined that not enough Spanish-dominant consumers were surveyed.

"We see the addition of weighting by language preference as one more incremental enhancement in the services we offer our subscribers," says Arbitron president Owen Charlebois. "We have a great deal of confidence in the quality of our current audience estimates, and we always strive to improve how we serve our customers and the marketplace."

In the meantime, Radio Unica chairman/CEO Joaquin Blaya estimates $150 million is lost each year by Spanish-radio operators because of faulty ratings methodology. That is more than the $145 million that went to all the Spanish radio stations in Los Angeles in 2001.

Adding fuel to the fire is Nielsenís move to begin weighting in six television markets in December.

"The recent announcement on language weighting on the surface is encouraging, however, the reality is very discouraging. Arbitron has no idea when they can start language weighting since their software has not been updated in 20 years," says Blaya, who is particularly frustrated because internal company research indicates a majority of listeners to Radio Unica's talk format come from Spanish dominant households. "The quality of Arbitron's product differs wildly for its English-language radio customers versus its Spanish-language customers. We feel that we are being discriminated against."

Source: MediaPost

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