The study, sponsored by the National Latino Media Council (NLMC) and conducted by Rincon & Associates, claims that Nielsen's inaccurate reporting is indirectly responsible for what it calls the "invisibility" of Latinos on television. It also maintains that more U.S.-born Latinos must be incorporated into the Latino portion of Nielsen's national ratings sample.
"So many decisions are made as a result of what Nielsen says," notes Castells & Associates president and chief executive officer Liz Castells-Heard. "If they're under-representing Latinos by 30 percent, which is a conservative estimate, that's doing some real damage." Adds NLMC chair and former Congressman Esteban Torres: "Nielsen's systematic exclusion of Latinos is shameful. The company has been slow in remedying this despite the significant economic losses to both the industry and our community."
As a result of the underreporting the number of Hispanic viewers, the study notes, programs featuring Latino talent are often cancelled prematurely. This leads to fewer chances for similar programs to find their way onto the air and, in turn, fewer venues through which advertisers can reach one of the few markets growing exponentially. "Nielsen's undercounting of Latino viewers of English-language television programs has a tremendous impact on our negotiations with the networks for Latino-themed programming," NLMC spokesperson Alex Nogales said in a statement.
The organization points to ABC sitcom "The George Lopez Show" as a prime example. While Nielsen data estimates the program is watched by an average of 1.2 million Latino viewers, the study concludes that the figure should be closer to two million. A prime reason for the disparity, the study concludes, is Nielsen's failure to take into account markets with a high concentration of U.S.-born Latinos.
Castells-Heard, on the other hand, notes discrepancies between the Nielsen Station Index (NSI), Nielsen's general market service for local TV ratings, and the Nielsen Hispanic Station Index (NHSI), a local market ratings service based on an Hispanic sample. "It seems like a lot of the problems are internal," she explains. "You have a show like 'The Simpsons,' which Hispanic viewers like, but the NSI and NHSI numbers say two different things in terms of the number of viewers. It doesn't make a lot of sense."
Needless to say, this directly affects the way media and ad agencies go about their business. "Hispanic agencies may look to NHSI, but everybody else looks at NSI," Castells-Heard continues. "The NSI really hurts Hispanic business because it's not a fair assessment of the market. To this day, I still have to sell the Hispanic opportunity to major corporations, regardless of the Census and the research that's available." There are around 39 million Latinos in the U.S., with an estimated annual purchasing power of more than $650 billion.
The Nielsen methodology may only be the start of it. The report also takes aim at the firm's Web site, noting that much of the available data on the Latino market is from 2001. "It's like they don't even care enough to make sure that their data is up to date," Castells-Heard says.
Proposed remedies suggested by the study include asking Nielsen to submit to external audits to affirm the accuracy of its Latino viewership estimates; the inclusion of more U.S.- and foreign-born Latinos on Nielsen's research panels; and revamping what Nogales calls the "unstable and inadequate" home language measurement used by Nielsen. The NLMC hopes to discuss its findings with the company as well as with major TV broadcast and cable networks.
"There should be some kind of council to verify what Nielsen is doing," Castells-Heard says. "There's too much at stake."
Nielsen regularly participates in audits of its ratings services by the Media Ratings Council. Nielsen has also been introducing various sample "weighting" schemes designed to bring the representation of its general market ratings samples in line with U.S. Census estimates.