TV Targets Hispanic Viewers the Nielsen Rating Service Is Sizing Up This Huge and Still Untapped US Market

Article excerpt

VALDEZ, MUNOZ, GARCIA - Attention, TV viewers with Spanish surnames. The A. C. Nielsen Company may be looking for you.

While the major networks try to find out where their dwindling audiences are going, two Spanish-language networks have hired the national TV ratings service to see how many viewers have come their way. If the pilot study begun in 200 homes during the summer proves successful - and early indications are that it will - the service will go nationwide. Stakes are high. The two networks, Telemundo and Univision, are shelling out $40 million for the service in hopes of persuading advertisers to invest in the $171 billion Hispanic TV market in the US.

"The history of Hispanic television has been severely hampered by the problem of measurement," says Emilio Nicholas, general manager of KMEX-TV here, the nation's largest Spanish-language station. KMEX-TV pulls in nearly one-tenth of the total $583 million in ad revenue paid to Spanish-language TV, radio, and print nationwide. With one-third of L.A. households known to be Hispanic, Mr. Nicholas thinks his revenue could be 10 times as high, and the national figure five times as high.

AFTER decades of second-class status as a ragtag collection of UHF outlets, Spanish-language TV has become one of the fastest-growing segments of the television industry.

Founded 27 years ago, Univision was the first Spanish-language service, and it now reaches 5.1 million or 90 percent of the US Hispanic households. Telemundo, begun three years ago, reaches 75 percent. The two air on about 570 affiliates.

At the better of those affiliates, both quality of programming and number of viewers have become a force to be reckoned with. The nightly newscast of KMEX, for instance, has the largest 18- to 34-year-old audience (the prime demographic for advertisers) of any newscast in Los Angeles, beating NBC, ABC, and CBS.

In line with the rapid growth of Telemundo and Univision, as well as new census figures, many English-language stations are seizing the initiative to woo Hispanic viewers in Miami, Houston, and L.A. Recent developments here include special series on minorities (KCAL), Spanish simulcasts of news (KCBS), and new beats on ethnic communities (KTLA).

And if the US Census Bureau has it right, America's Hispanic community of 22 million will grow 40 percent over the next decade, in contrast to overall population growth of about eight percent. That could be an enticement for the 500 largest advertisers on English-language TV to run ads on Spanish-language TV as well. Over 100 already do: soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi), household goods (Procter and Gamble), fast-food (Burger King, McDonald's), cars (Ford, Chevy).

But for now, Spanish-language TV reaches five percent of TV households in the US but takes in far less than one percent of the medium's ad revenues. "In all its years, Hispanic TV has never turned its fair profit," contends Nicholas. "Now, with all its growth, the income potential is enormous."

Nielsen statistics, beyond verifying numbers of Hispanics who are watching, bring credibility to Spanish TV, observers say.

"Many of the bigger, general-market advertising agencies won't touch Spanish-language TV because they are uncomfortable or untrusting of the audience numbers we give them," says Telemundo's Bob Friend.

As in the early days of cable, rich ad agencies looked the other way until operators pooled their resources for viable audience measurement. …