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Spanish-Radio Firms Blast Arbitron's Measurements


November 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. All rights reserved. 

The four largest Spanish-language radio broadcasters in the U.S. launched a blistering attack on Arbitron Inc., contending the ratings company underestimates their market clout and is dragging its feet in changing its measurement techniques to count their listeners.

Arbitron last week said it would start "weighting" by language preference the audience samples it uses to measure ratings in primary markets, adjusting them to ensure the mix of English and Spanish speakers accurately represents the linguistic makeup of the population. But Arbitron didn't specify a time for the change, saying it would disclose the timing and other details early next year.

In a statement Thursday, the top four Spanish-language radio groups -- Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., Spanish Broadcasting System Inc., Entravision Communications Corp. and Radio Unica Communications Corp. -- are expected to charge the announcement by Arbitron is meaningless without a deadline.

"We started asking for these changes over a year and a half ago," said Joaquin Blaya, chairman and chief executive of Radio Unica. "They know they're not measuring the market correctly."

Arbitron spokesman Thom Mocarsky said the company is moving as fast as it can but needs time to prepare the change. "We want to do [the weighting] as expeditiously as possible, but we want to do it appropriately," he said.

Advertisers use Arbitron's ratings to determine the size of a radio station's audience and to allocate ad dollars accordingly. To ensure ratings reflect the makeup of the population, Arbitron weights its samples by various demographic characteristics, such as age, gender and geography, and in some cities by race and ethnicity. 

But Spanish-language broadcasters contend their ratings are depressed because Arbitron's Hispanic samples, which aren't adjusted for language preference, include too many English speakers. They claim Spanish speakers, many of whom are immigrants unaccustomed to marketing polls, are less likely to take part in Arbitron's surveys. As a result, Mr. Blaya said, the audience share of Spanish-language radio is undercounted by at least 20% on average, costing broadcasters $500 million to $600 million in lost ad revenue during the past five years.

The language mix of Arbitron's samples can swing wildly. For instance, ratings for Spanish-language stations in Los Angeles plummeted this summer. Bill Tanner, head of programming for Spanish Broadcasting, attributes the decline to a drop in the percentage of Spanish speakers in Arbitron's Hispanic sample, to 47% during the summer from 53% during the spring.

Mr. Mocarsky said before Arbitron can start weighting by language, it must upgrade its software and define benchmarks for the language mix of radio listeners in each market, as those used to measure television audiences by Nielsen Media Research might not work for radio. He also said the company is studying ways to increase sample sizes of Hispanics so they are big enough to allow for language weighting.

Spanish-language broadcasters are wary that all this could take too long. "They have made promises before," said Gary Stone, chief operating officer of Hispanic Broadcasting. "Now they say it could take time. We fear it could be another two, three or four years."

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