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It might be the best $40 million ever spent by the nation's two Spanish- language TV networks.

Executives at Tele mundo Group and Univision Television Network say the national Nielsen Hispanic Television Index, a people-meter service launched in November 1992, contributed to strong advertising gains last year.

"Both Telemundo and Univision had record years in ad sales. We think Nielsen is a contributing factor," says Jon Marks, VP-director of corporate research at Telemundo. "Nielsen clearly gave us a lot of legitimacy we hoped to gain."

Telemundo and Univision invested a combined $40 million over five years on the service, which offers daily, weekly and monthly reports. It replaced a three-times-a-year Hispanic viewing survey by Strategy Research Corp., which market observers say inflated network TV viewership.

Network and agency executives say the numbers gave existing clients increased confidence that their ads were reaching their targets, and showed many non-advertisers their general market ad buys weren't reaching Spanish-dominant Hispanics.

"It has improved the confidence level of both the agency and the client," says Rina Alvarez Flaharty, Hispanic media supervisor at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, noting the service is making new clients consider the market.

"It shows us that ad dollars are on target," she says.

"It made it a whole lot easier to get in the door with sales pitches," Mr. Marks states. "Before, advertisers S8

said we don't want to talk to you until you have good solid audience numbers. We made more new business pitches this year than prior years."

Although the Nielsen service is considered an improvement over past measurements, it's had its problems. Some critics believe the service undercounts the market by about 10% because of high turnover in the sample base.

Also, because Nielsen's initial numbers came in lower than expected, some shows, such as Univision's "Sabado Gigante," were forced to compensate advertisers with make-goods.

"Sabado Gigante" consistently got the No.|1 ranking from Strategy Research based on total viewership during a three-hour period but ranked much lower on Nielsen because many viewers tuned in for part of the show.

However, the networks didn't lose ad dollars as advertisers bought more spots.

Nielsen's figures "might have had a slightly depressing effect on rates. But the sellout levels increase dramatically because of Nielsen," says Doug Darfield, VP-research director at Univision.

How Nielsen affects ad rates and budgets may be more clear later this year when year-to-year ratings comparisions are available. But Univision, which sold out its $20 million inventory of World Cup soccer coverage this year, doesn't expect rates to fall for one reason: increased demand.M

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