A Wait for Weighted Radio Ratings

The radio industry will have to wait until 2006 before Arbitron says it will be able to provide stations, buyers, and planners with ratings that include a Hispanic sample by language preference. The announcement, by Arbitron president of U.S. media services Owen Charlebois, was made in an email to clients this week.

Last November, the radio ratings company vowed to move forward with weighting by language preference following the 2002 summer ratings survey, which showed a dramatic fall-off in listening by Hispanics in the Los Angeles market. But Charlebois said it would take longer than expected to re-write and update its computer programs needed to process the data. “We anticipate that the re-engineering of our software systems will be completed by the winter 2006 survey, roughly three years from today,” he wrote.

Although Arbitron says its systems won’t be capable of turning out weighted data until mid-decade, it is offering an interim solution to broadcasters and advertisers alike. It is proposing making changes to its existing Hispanic Market Service (HMS), which produces radio ratings in 23 markets twice a year and is already used by more than 250 advertising agency planners and buyers. Charlebois said Arbitron is in discussions with Nielsen Media Research to use its existing estimates of how many Spanish speakers are in a market – data that could be applied to Arbitron’s radio research. If broadcasters approve of the idea, and Nielsen and Arbitron can come to terms by November, Charlebois predicted it could release weighted ratings as soon as February 2004.



“A key factor that determines when and for how many markets we can add language weighting to the Hispanic Market Service is the availability of appropriate universe estimates for the language preference of Hispanics,” continued Charlebois. For starters, Nielsen only presently has the ability to weight ratings in six markets. Moreover, TV DMAs frequently do not overlap with radio market definitions. For instance, the Los Angeles television market encompasses both the Los Angeles and Riverside radio markets. Combine that with the fact that Arbitron’s HMS is only available in two dozen markets, and it appears the proposed Band Aid will only provide weighted ratings in a handful of radio markets, most likely those with the largest Hispanic populations, such as Los Angeles, New York and Miami.

There are still a number of long term problems that the radio industry must still sort out as well. The most significant of which is how the industry will pay for statisticians to come up with an accurate methodology to calculate how to go about creating language weighted ratings, once Arbitron’s computers can handle the data. That could pit general market owners against operators of Spanish stations. In a hint of how it will be positioned to English-language operators, an Arbitron spokesman says the weighted ratings will create “more stable, predictable ratings” for all stations.

In the meantime, Arbitron will hold a teleconference with its radio and advertising customers February 6, and it is expected to make a decision on whether to move forward with the interim HMS weighted ratings proposal by the end of March.

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