Nielsen Media Research will include in its national ratings shows aired by Univision Communications Inc. starting next week, a move that is expected to better measure the nation’s growing Latino audience.
Nielsen has long been criticized for failing to provide a complete picture of television viewership by using a system that excludes the preferences of millions of Spanish-speaking Latinos when it calculates the size of TV audiences and the most popular shows.
Executives at Los Angeles-based Univision, controlled by billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio, anticipate that next week’s change will eventually translate into tens of millions of dollars in additional ad sales. Last year, the company took in nearly $1.3 billion in TV revenue.
“Univision will finally be measured alongside its main competitors, the major English-language broadcast networks,” Ray Rodriguez, Univision’s president and chief operating officer, said Monday.
Since 1992, Nielsen has estimated the audiences for Spanish-language shows through a separate audience panel, releasing those numbers with little fanfare. In Nielsen’s National Hispanic Television index, Univision typically delivers most of the top 20 Spanish-language shows.
Those separate ratings have led some advertisers to overlook Univision when deciding how to divvy up their dollars among the different media outlets, ad buyers say. For example, the computer program that helps most media planners come up with their budgets for ad time doesn’t even include shows on Spanish-language networks. Rival Telemundo, owned by NBC Universal, also is expected to join the service.
“The fact that the research has been segregated has been an excuse for some general market advertisers to focus only on the general market networks,” said Monica Gadsby, chief executive of Tapestry, a specialty unit of media buying giant Starcom MediaVest Group. “But it shouldn’t be thought of that way any longer. Spanish-language media is part of the new general market.”
If audiences for prime-time shows broadcast by Univision had been measured along with its English-language rivals, Univision often would be the fifth-most popular network among viewers under age 50, behind CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox Broadcasting. Among the 18-to-34-year-old crowd, Univision frequently would finish second, behind Fox.
Nielsen’s new policy is more than a decade in coming. In the late 1980s, Nielsen wasn’t sure how to measure the nascent Spanish-language TV industry, and the broadcast networks were unwilling to change the system under which they had long prospered.
So Spanish-language networks, including Univision and Telemundo, agreed to pay for a separate service. But as the U.S. Latino population swelled to more than 40 million, the Spanish-language networks and media planning groups complained that Nielsen’s segregated system was hopelessly out of date, resulting in the latest change.
“For the first time, a Spanish-language television network will be included in the national sample,” said Sara Erichson, Nielsen’s general manager of national services.
Nielsen’s move comes five months before one of the most popular events in Spanish-language broadcasting, soccer’s World Cup. Univision has the Spanish-language broadcast rights to the games in the U.S. and is expecting a big audience.
During the last World Cup, in 2002, Nielsen’s method for calculating Univision’s audience excluded as many as 15 million viewers, Rodriguez said. That’s because the system Nielsen used recognized Latino homes only if the “head of household” was a Latino, not if other family members were.
The change is one of two that Nielsen is making next week to better measure TV viewing habits. It also will begin Monday to measure shows watched by consumers who have digital video recorders such as TiVo.
Nielsen spent the last 18 months, and more than $10 million, to modify its equipment so it could work with more sophisticated electronics and recruit new members to the panel who have DVRs. Nielsen estimates that about 7% of the 110 million homes in the U.S. with televisions are equipped with DVRs. That percentage is expected to rise to about a quarter of all homes with televisions within two years.
Nielsen plans to release three batches of figures daily, including the “overnight” numbers that will include the number of homes and viewers who watched a prime-time show at the time it was broadcast, a second batch that includes the size of the audience that watched a show live along with those who watched it in the play-back mode, and lastly, a week’s worth of data on shows that people watched after they recorded them.
“Our job is to make sure that we can keep up with measuring their content as it moves to an increasingly diverse array of platforms,” Erichson said. “There will certainly be an impact on viewing patterns as more people begin to watch television differently.”
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The top 10 networks
Average prime-time audience, ages 18 to 49, in 2004-05 season* (in millions)
Source: Nielsen Media Research
*Sept. 20, 2004, to Sept. 18, 2005