With roughly $1 billion worth of annual advertising revenue at stake for Los Angeles television stations, KMEX-TV Channel 34 is trying to use its stellar World Cup ratings to draw attention to what the station has maintained for years: that far more people watch Spanish-language programming here than the A.C. Nielsen Co. reports.
KMEX, the area's leading Spanish-language station, subscribes to two Nielsen ratings services. One measures only Latino households, while the other--also used by the English-language stations--measures the total number of households watching television, including Latino ones.
For last Monday's World Cup soccer game between Brazil and Russia, Nielsen's Latino rating service reported that 234,000 Latino homes in Southern California were tuned in. But the general market service reported total viewership of 195,000 homes. Similar discrepancies have been found in other World Cup matches.
Maureen Schultz, director of research and marketing for KMEX, maintains that both numbers can't be correct if they are true representations of the L.A.-Orange-Ventura county market, where 33% of the people are Latino.
"If you look at the local radio market, you see that the No. 1 station in Los Angeles (KLAX-FM (97.9)) is a Spanish station," she said. "But the No. 1 television station is certainly not, because Nielsen under-reports Hispanic viewing in the total market."
Nielsen explains that the methodology used to define Latino homes in the two samples is very different. For the Latino ratings service, Nielsen takes into account both the types and degree of Spanish spoken in the homes measured, making sure that Spanish is the primary language used in at least 60% of them. For the general market service, households are labeled Latino based on the identification of the head of household, with less regard for what language is spoken most often.
Still, Nielsen can't specifically explain why the Latino rating breaks down into more households than the general market rating.
"Remember, these ratings are estimates," said Jack Loftus, vice president of communications for Nielsen. "You have entirely different samples, so you have different numbers. The Hispanic-language sample probably does a better job, in terms of both counting and identifying Spanish-language households in that sample."
Even using the broader general market numbers, KMEX outperformed its English-language counterparts in certain key demographics during last month's ratings sweeps. If Nielsen used the more precise methodology employed in the Latino measurement, Schultz believes KMEX would be the No. 1 station here.
Nielsen created the separate Latino service five years ago so they could better measure their Spanish-speaking audiences and charge advertisers a fair price to reach them.
The Latino service uses a device called a People Meter, requiring viewers to push buttons and give information about themselves whenever they watch TV. So why not use the more sophisticated technology for the entire market?
"The problem is that not every customer in the market wants it that way because the methodologies are different," Loftus said. "I don't know if their numbers (at the English-language stations) would go down, but we offered them People Meter service some years ago, and they did not want it. If KMEX will sit down with all the other stations and agree that, as a market, this is what they want, Nielsen would have to look at that very carefully. But I don't see that happening."