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Latin America's first panregional TV audience ratings will be out next month, a sign of how far research has come in the region.

In fact, the core group of U.S. international cable and satellite TV operators that has backed panregional media research in Latin America for several years is now discussing a similar program for Asia. Market research companies have been asked to submit proposals in mid-January.

The next big project for Latin America is likely to be in the print arena. Publishers are planning their own panregional readership survey to provide reliable numbers that might convince advertisers being wooed by marketing-savvy international cable and satellite TV operators to invest in print too.

"A number of panregional publishers have been meeting and we're having discussions about going ahead with the project," said David Swanson, publisher of Newsweek's Spanish-language edition, Newsweek en espa¤ol. "We hope to decide in early 1997."

"We've seen advertisers switch from print to cable because it offers niche markets for a reasonable cost," said David Taggart, publisher of monthly business magazine AmericaEconomia (see related story, page i-32) and a moving force behind the proposed research. "What I and other publishers are trying to do is come back and professionalize our research marketing and try to help advertisers substantiate their investment in print media."

The new TV audience ratings are being evaluated in presentations to the 14 international cable and satellite TV networks who commissioned the research and to ad agencies' regional offices for Latin America.

Initially the metered ratings, carried out by IBOPE, the Rio de Janeiro-based market research company that won the coveted panregional TV audience measurement contract last year in a pitch against ACNielsen, cover only Argentina and Mexico. Brazil and Chile will be added this year and Colombia, Venezuela and Peru in 1998.

It wasn't always this formal-or appreciated. When the first edition of the Los Medios y Mercados de Latino America report was released in late 1994, researcher Paul Donato received a lukewarm response from most in the advertising community. Los Medios, funded by the same cable and satellite networks that are backing the new metered TV audience ratings, was the first comprehensive look at Latin consumers' media and other consumption habits. But at the time, many marketers weren't prepared to move on Latin America, much less act on new research data covering media usage in the region.

It didn't help that Brazil was suffering hyperinflation of more than 400% or that Mexico had experienced a currency crash which had marketers worried about a domino effect on other nations.

Then came the turning point. Six months after the research was released, one agency that had received the Los Medios data fielded six calls from clients seeking analysis on Latin America, recalled Mr. Donato, senior VP with Audits & Surveys Worldwide in New York. For many would-be global marketers, Latin America was a missing piece that was finally falling into place.

"You simply can't not be there," said Mr. Donato, whose company conducted Los Medios and is currently hiring staff for the new IBOPE U.S. unit that will be based at Audits & Surveys' New York office. "You're writing off a continent otherwise."

Long overlooked in international media and marketing circles, Latin America is at last getting more attention from global marketers. Economic stability, fewer trade barriers and growing consumer markets are the main lures, but the improving ability to actually track the emerging market and its media habits is also a draw.

"What you're seeing in Latin America is rapid change in how media is used [by consumers] and interpreted by agencies and clients," said Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for USA Network.

One notable difference is the erosion in the near-monopoly market share of big national broadcasters as new terrestrial TV rivals grow and multichannel television further fragments the market. Media buying has become more complicated than just buying space on the Rede Globo TV network in Brazil or Televisa in Mexico.

"The national broadcaster was 90% of the market; now that's 80% or 70% or 50%, and the audience is splitting away," Mr. Brooks said. "[Media] buyers have to find out where the audience in fact is and place ads appropriately."

Michael Fox, director of worldwide advertising for sports network ESPN, said, "The next level of evolution is to provide the advertising community audience specifics as to who is watching what networks."

The Television Association of Programmers Latin America has worked for three years to create an industry standard for such measurement-the result has been the annual Los Medios y Mercados de Latino America.

The new TV audience ratings measured by IBOPE's people meters will provide weekly results by e-mail to clients as well as monthly printed reports. Equally important is the effort to harmonize standards so research results are comparable within a region and eventually on a worldwide basis to give international media planners meaningful data. For example, the single most difficult demographic to harmonize is how to classify people by socioeconomic status, because criteria vary so much from country to country.

Latin America research, meanwhile, is proving the inspiration for Los Medios-style research in Asia Pacific, another region with a rapidly changing media scene and little regional multimedia research. (Unlike Latin America, though, Asia has several syndicated panregional print media surveys). The Western cable and satellite operators behind the Los Medios research would like to do the same thing in Asia and are discussing a panregional research study with Asia's Cable and Satellite Broadcasters Association. They have already formed a group called PACTAP, which is taking bids until mid-January from research companies in Asia to carry out the project.

"In terms of establishing the credibility of regional marketing in Latin America [the research] is considered a good success," said Mr. Donato, whose company has offices in Tokyo and Manila and is submitting a bid for the Asian project. "Now they'd like to do the same thing in Asia."

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