Spanish-Language TV Finds a Home on Digital Tiers

Jun 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

By Debra Kaufman

Special to TelevisionWeek

Five years ago Larry Patton, senior VP of Drewry Broadcast, had a surprising conversation with a friend who ran the No. 1 station in Harlingen, Texas. “He told me that his broadcast of ‘[The Oprah Winfrey Show]’ was being beaten by a Hispanic telenovela on a local Spanish-language TV station,” he recalled. “My manager and I decided we better start looking at supplying Spanish-language programming.”

Mr. Patton isn’t alone. Station owners throughout the country are taking a look at their digital bandwidth and deciding that a Spanish-language station is a smart idea.

“Not too long ago, they tried to serve the Hispanic community by including some stories in the newscast of interest to the community,” said Dick Haynes, VP of Frank N. Magid Associates, a media research and consulting firm. “I think most stations figured out that they needed to make a bigger effort. Now I’m seeing many local TV stations looking to reach out to their Hispanic marketplace innovatively by using some of the digital spectrum to launch local newscasts that are totally Hispanic. I see this as a huge, huge opportunity.”

When NBC bought Telemundo in 2001, all of a sudden NBC affiliates had ready access to Spanish-language programming, which they can bolster with local news and public affairs coverage. Other local station groups, such as Drewry Broadcast, have created relationships with Univision or Telemundo for a Spanish-language feed, which they likewise enhance with local news. After conversations with both Univision and Telemundo (before it was bought by NBC), Drewry Broadcast made a deal to purchase two low-power Texas TV stations, in Odessa-/Midland and Amarillo, and began broadcasting Telemundo programming. The stations-KWES-TV (an NBC affiliate) and KFDA-TV (a CBS and UPN affiliate)-are now also broadcast on the digital tier and on local cable.

“We convinced Telemundo that it was better to be run locally so we could supply local news,” Mr. Patton said. “We now do a 5 [p.m.] and a 10 [p.m.] Spanish-language newscast, and our Hispanic newscast, demographicwise, has been competitive with the No. 3 news station. We do extremely well in Hispanic homes.”

At KWES, Station Manager Richard Esparza runs the NBC station and the Telemundo station under one roof. “We do save on resources,” he said, “especially with the news product. We save on photographers and edit bays. For Telemundo, we might focus more on different stories, with more Mexico and more border news. And we might also report weather from Mexico. Overall, however, it’s still news, with the same coverage and the same aspects.”

The Right Move

Since establishing the Odessa-Midland and Amarillo Telemundo stations, Drewry Broadcast has added similar Spanish-language services at its ABC affiliates in Waco, Texas (KXXV-TV), and Lawton, Okla. (KSWO-TV).

“It’s absolutely the right move in certain markets,” said Julie Kraft, a senior consultant with Magid. “I do think that there are stations out there wondering what are we going to do with these additional digital channels? If they have a large Hispanic audience, it’s a no-brainer to have something geared to that community on one of their digital channels.”

At the Drewry stations, new programming is in the works. In September, Mr. Patton revealed, KWES will begin telecasting LA-TV (Latin Alternative Television), a new bilingual network feed geared toward Hispanics 18 to 24, on its digital tier. “It’ll be a mix of entertainment and music, and it’ll appeal to the young Hispanic with some appeal to others in the market,” he said. “With the music, a lot of it has begun to cross over to English-speaking audiences.”

Drewry Broadcast is being joined by an ever-increasing number of stations that are betting on Spanish-language with local news. “I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls in the last year about what we’re doing from interested station managers all over the country, anyplace where the community has 20 percent Hispanics or more,” Mr. Patton said. “It’s good for the community. We are really happy the way things are going.”