Asian-American Market Is Ready

In Los Angeles, viewers can choose from seven English-language newscasts and three others in Spanish, but only one broadcaster delivers local news in Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. The outlet is independent station KSCI Los Angeles, a full-power TV station aimed at the 2.5 million Asian-American viewers in Southern California, home to the country's largest Asian community.

KSCI and its sister station, KIKU Honolulu, are owned by AsianMedia, a two-station group backed by private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners. With stations in two of the top four markets (the others are New York and San Francisco), KSCI and KIKU reach a quarter of all Asian-Americans.

Leonard Green & Partners, which bought the KSCI and KIKU in 2001, put Peter Mathes, former head of the Chris Craft stations, in charge last year. His agenda: “More local programming and have more of a presence in the communities.”

Under AsianMedia, KSCI relaunched as LA 18 (it is channel 18) and expanded its news department, with the aim of “connecting viewers to local news and what is happening back home,” Mathes says. In prime time, KSCI runs Korean dramas, which are subtitled in English. Shows from the Philippines, Japan, China and Korea dot the schedule during day parts.

In Hawaii, KIKU focuses mostly on Japanese, Chinese and Filipino programming, much of which is subtitled. The station airs two locally produced shows, one in Vietnamese and another for Filipinos in English. (As a UPN affiliate, KIKU also carries some English-language content.)

AsianMedia is hardly alone in chasing the Asian-American audience. In San Francisco, KTSF has been programming to Asian-Americans for 30 years. Startup cable channels ImaginAsian and Comcast-backed AZN are targeting younger viewers .

The relative youth and affluence of the Asian-American audience is an attraction for all of these programmers. The median income of Asian-American households is $55,521, compared to $45,904 for non-Hispanic white households and $33,447 for Hispanic households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And, with a median age of 31, the Asian-American population is four years younger than the overall U.S. median age.

Population of 13.5 Million

Despite those inviting figures, there are a couple of significant hurdles for ad sales. The total Asian-American population in the U.S., according to the census bureau, is 13.5 million—not an enormous ethnic bloc, in a country with 40 million Hispanics. The population is also subdivided into a variety of ethnicities. KSCI, for example, programs in five languages, and many advertisers are reluctant to cut different spots for each one.

While Hispanic viewers share a language, notes Thomas Tseng, co-founder of multicultural research firm New American Dimensions, “that commonality doesn't exist in the Asian-American market and it is a challenge for advertisers.”

And, indeed, the Asian-American ad market is modest: KIKU took in $2.2 million in revenue last year, while KSCI earned $1.5 million, according to BIA Financial. KTSF's larger operation in San Francisco brought in $15.3 million. Those numbers are likely to increase in 2005, thanks in part to the introduction of Nielsen's Local People Meters (LPMs) in Los Angeles and San Francisco last year. For the first time, an Asian-American subset is being tallied in TV ratings reports. Media buyers say having more specific data helps persuade clients to buy in or increase their ad spending.

The arrival of LPMs is likely help Mathes, who says he's “going after bigger accounts” than the local ads his stations used to rely on. Wal-Mart now buys time on KSCI; Mercedes and Nextel buy on KIKU.

Another indication of the Asian-American TV market's increasing muscle: AsianMedia plans to expand into other major markets within the next two years.

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