COMMENT: GROSSMAN ON SPOT SALES

NIELSEN JUST CAN’T WIN, EVEN IN SPANISH

Despite surging LPM ratings, Univision grouses that its audience is being undercounted, while rivals argue that it's being overcounted.

Imagine in January your station for the first time defeats all three network newscasts and the Wheel of Fortune/Jeopardy! hour in a key demo and then surges 16% from sign-on to sign-off in the first week of the February sweeps in New York.

Chances are complaining about your numbers and the new Local People Meters would be the furthest thing on your mind.

But Univision continues to gripe behind-the-scenes, even though in January its WXTV in New York edged out the English-language competition among adults 18-49 from a 6:30 p.m. newscast through a prime access telenovela.

If Nielsen’s sample accurately reflected the population, then Univision’s ratings would be even higher, the network believes. As it is now, it argues, Nielsen overcounts upscale viewers and underweights Hispanic homes where Spanish is the main language spoken.

Sounds like the orphan who threw himself on the mercy of the court after killing his parents, right? But in this case the network has a sympathetic judge in the normally unmoved Nielsen Media Research, which freely concedes its ongoing problem of keeping young Hispanics who speak mainly Spanish in the sample.

On the other hand, Nielsen has anything but compassion for Robert Rose’s AIM Television Group, a New York-based boutique producer/distributor of  Latino-themed pop culture shows programmed in English for young Latino adults. Rose is waging a lonely, perhaps quixotic, fight to convince stations that the LPM sample unfairly helps Univision because Nielsen uses the propensity to speak Spanish instead of the country of birth to define its Hispanic sample.

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“A lot of people speak Spanish,” Rose says. “Just because you speak Spanish doesn’t mean you come home and watch Sabado Gigante. Young people think that [variety] show is cheesy.”

Rose is pressing an issue that his critics argue amounts to a self-serving campaign to overturn a bedrock of  Nielsen’s philosophy that divides the Hispanic population into five segments based on how much Spanish is spoken.

Most younger Latinos were born in the United States, Rose says, and their nativity, not their language, shapes their cultural habits. “Language is a moving target that is almost 100% impossible to monitor accurately,” he argues, largely because people will lie about their fluency as a defense mechanism against the increasingly reality of their American acculturation.

Citing a handful of studies, he insists that the heavily acculturated Latinos born in the U.S. prefer Lost to telenovelas.

But he’s up against it. Station groups have more important issues on their plates such as measuring DVR viewing and dealing with the mountains of daily ratings demographic data that has been showered on them by LPMs.

And Nielsen wants more proof that nativity trumps language than the research Rose has offered. “All of our research shows that language spoken in the home is a better predictor of TV habits than nativity,” says Nielsen Senior Vice President Jack Loftus.

Even some station reps—who would benefit from making the changes Rose wants—are skeptical.

“It all comes back to language,” says Alan Picozza, Petry Television’s vice president of research. Besides, changing the sample would create enormous problems because most homes contain a mix of American and Latino residents. “How would you put those households in the box?”

LPMs came to Dallas a month ago and while GMs there believe the sample is more accurate than elsewhere, there is suspicion that Nielsen has overcompensated for Univision’s complaints.

“Univision is showing large shares of viewing for younger audiences that far exceeds their actual population representation in my mind,” says Joseph Young, GM of Tribune’s KDAF.

The adage in the news business is you’re doing your job if both sides are mad at you. Nielsen may or may not be accurately measuring audiences, but its executives might confidently feel that if they haven’t pleased everyone on the Hispanic question, at least they’re not playing favorites.


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