Univision Refuses to Encode Signals in New PPM Areas

What will happen to the Miami radio market when as much as 20 percent of the audience simply disappears from the ratings?

That’s the scenario advertisers face July 16 when Arbitron publishes its first portable people meter ratings in Miami, San Diego, and Phoenix, three top Hispanic markets where Univision Communications has not subscribed to the service and has refused to encode its signals.

For Arbitron, which purports to measure all media outlets in a market, Univision’s action represents nothing short of a currency crisis. And it will leave buyers and planners without a complete picture of radio listening in those markets. In order for the PPM to measure a radio station’s audience, the station must be encoded, leaving Arbitron dependent on the kindness of its customers.

“This isn’t good for the currency,” said Lauren Russo, vp and managing director of local radio, Horizon Media.

In April, Arbitron’s agency advisory council urged all broadcasters to encode. Univision, which for a year has criticized the PPM, declined to cooperate. “We had to take a stand and do what we believe in. It’s impacting our revenue as well as Arbitron’s,” said Ceril Shagrin, executive vp, corporate research for Univision, which has seen ratings slide in PPM in markets such as New York and Los Angeles (see Market Profile, page AM 12 ).

The Spanish-language giant is also refusing to use PPM ratings anywhere except Houston, one of only two PPM markets that has Media Rating Council accreditation.

Spanish Broadcasting System is also going without PPM ratings in New York and Miami. “We’ve told our clients we are going with the only accredited measurement, and that’s the Arbitron [diary-based] spring book. We try not to negotiate off what we feel is faulty and unreliable,” said Frank Flores, chief revenue officer for SBS, which also saw ratings slide for its stations in New York.

“Arbitron believes that encoding participation across a market helps identify the ongoing competitive power of radio, and we encourage all stations in PPM markets to encode,” responded Arbitron in a statement.

While stations not selling with the PPM poses only a negotiation irritation for agencies, not representing major stations in the ratings in top markets poses a huge impediment to radio buys. “If this goes on long term, there could be less interest in Spanish-language radio,” said Danielle Gonzales, senior vp, managing director for Tapestry, which will devise its own estimates. “It’s difficult to be accountable without the data.”

Horizon also will assemble its own estimates. Hispanics “are an important consumer to hit and we don’t want to exclude them,” said Russo, adding that “it’ll be hard to measure success based on ratings delivery.”

Shagrin knows Univision has its work cut out: “We’ll work with advertisers, we’ll look at sales information [and] maybe do some primary research. We all have the same goal.”