Spanish Lingo Wins Nielsen Bingo, Will Be Paid Higher Cash Incentives

In America's Anglo society, people living in Spanish-speaking households are sometimes regarded as second-class citizens. In October, if they happen to live in a Nielsen household, they'll begin getting some first-class treatment. In a plan unveiled to clients on Tuesday, Nielsen Media Research said it would begin paying Spanish-speaking households more money to be part of its TV ratings service than Hispanic households where English is the dominant language. The goal, the company said, is to boost the number of Spanish-speaking households in its sample in order to make it more representative of the U.S. population.

The decision is the latest attempt by Nielsen to test how incentives - usually cash payments to individuals and/or households - influence their participation in Nielsen's ratings samples. Nielsen executives would not say how much more they will be paying Spanish-speaking households during the test, or what the total amount of cash payments might be, but last fall Nielsen was exploring a plan that could boost cash payments to levels that would exceed the $600 per year that would require Nielsen households to report it to the Internal Revenue Service as income. Nielsen has apparently backed away from those levels due to two concerns: One that the tax liability might be a turn off for some Nielsen households; and two, that the extra cash might alter lifestyles in those Nielsen households that could influence the way they watch television. Among other things, Nielsen has been concerned that the extra cash could be used to by new electronic equipment such as DVD players or DVRs, or to pay for premium TV channels that could change viewing habits.



A Nielsen spokesman said that preliminary research conducted by the ratings company indicates higher financial incentives do not have an impact on the lifestyles of Nielsen households.

"We don't think these added incentives to Spanish-dominant homes will impact lifestyles," he said. "This change will be made and evaluated in these two local markets before potentially expanding this program," Nielsen said in the client notice.

The experiment, meanwhile, is raising other concerns, because it constitutes a test on a live ratings sample, something that violates industry guidelines. However, Nielsen has reviewed its plans with the Media Rating Council, the media industry's ratings watchdog, which granted Nielsen a waiver on that rule to conduct the test.

"Occasionally, ratings services come to us with requests to do live tests on their samples and we take a look at it and sometimes approve it," said George Ivie, executive director and CEO of the MRC, adding, "We approved this."

Ivie said that before sanctioning the Nielsen test, the MRC looked at the "downside risk" it could have on the integrity of Nielsen's ratings vs. the upside potential of improving the quality of its sample by getting more Spanish-speaking households involved.

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