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News gains ground

n Sept. 2, two newscasts—
from two network affiliates, in two languages and going out to two distinct audiences—emanated from one state-of-the-art broadcast facility in Miramar, Fla.

"For me, this was a dream come true," said a still emotional Don Browne, who spent years as a newsman in Latin America, is married to a woman from Cuba and now runs NBC's dual-language Miami duopoly, WTVJ(TV) and new Telemundo sister station WSCV(TV). Browne said the Spanish-language newscast was as uplifting an experience as he has had in his 35-year-plus career.

"When we both signed on at 6 p.m. Sept. 2," he says, "we were euphoric. When the shows went off the air, people were hugging. There's been nothing like it before."

Historic and unprecedented though they may be, the side-by-side broadcasts do not symbolize a coming of age for Spanish-language local newscasts in the U.S. As Browne and many others will tell you in either language, that happened a long time ago.

For years, Univision or Telemundo affiliates have been winning news-ratings races in households or key demos—even placing first and
second—in markets as large as New York, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles and in smaller markets with large Hispanic populations, such as Fresno and Bakersfield, Calif., and Laredo and El Paso, Texas.

Miami's Spanish and English newscasts from NBC may foreshadow a coming economic parity for Spanish-language television stations and their news departments.

Right now, though, ratings don't always translate into revenue. Even at top-performing Spanish-language stations in major markets—where revenue can be in nine figures—sales typically lag English-language stations with similar or even lower viewership.

In the No. 1 Hispanic market, Los Angeles, for example, Univision's KMEX-TV logged just under $133 million in revenue in 2001, with an 11% local commercial share (LCS) according to BIA Financial estimates. (LCS is a station's share of viewers, adjusted for cable, noncommercial and out-of-market stations). With a similar LCS, KCBS-TV had revenues of $149 million, and KTTV(TV) had revenue of $183.7 million. Both KABC-TV and KNBC-TV topped $240 million in revenue, with shares in the higher teens. Telemundo station KVEA(TV) took in $34 million, with 4%.

In New York City, the No. 1 DMA overall and No. 2 Hispanic market, Univision's WXTV(TV) took in $47.4 million on a 6% LCS, Telemundo's WNJU(TV) $10.5 million on a 4% LCS, according to BIA estimates for 2001. In contrast, Fox-owned UPN affiliate WWOR-TV had more than triple WXTV's revenues, $149.3 million, on only 12/3 the LCS, 10%; WNYW(TV) took in $225 million with an 11% LCS. WNBC(TV) had revenues of $320.0 million on a 19% LCS, WABC-TV $292.7 million on 20%, WPIX(TV) $205.0 million on 14%, and WCBS-TV $196.7 million on 14%.

In Miami, the No. 3 Hispanic market, Univision's WLTV won the competitive 6 p.m. time slot last May; WSCV, which has been gaining ground in recent months, is runner-up at 11 p.m. to English-language WTVJ, followed by WLTV. WLTV and WSCV are, respectively, No. 1 and 2 sign-on to sign-off. BIA Financial reports that, in 2001, WLTV had revenues of $58 million, WSCV $33 million. Again, three English-language stations with overall lower viewership had higher revenues with a lower LCS than Univision's.

"I've been in this business a long time," said Walter Ulloa, chairman of Entravision, which owns 15 news-producing Univision affiliates, 11 rated No. 1 or 2 in their midsize to small—but always heavily Hispanic—markets. He estimates the overall revenue gap at about 40%.

"I've seen this business evolve," he said, "and there's definitely been a lot of misinformation about our market. It's made it a tough sell. A lot of things have been … distorted. Our audiences tend to be young families, with more consumption per household.

"But there's more research available," he added. "Nielsen is doing a better job of measuring than even five years ago."

Nonetheless, he said, a significant part of Entravision's presentation to investors deals with the revenue gap between English- and Spanish-language stations.

"Revenues aren't on par with ratings delivery," noted a Los Angeles Spanish-language–station executive. "It's been hard to get advertisers to spend in proportion to viewership."

The gap isn't just in revenue. Staffs are smaller at the Spanish-language stations, and—as agents, Hispanic community groups and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artist point out—so are salaries. Union and community groups in Los Angeles have noted recently the gap within the same company—NBC—when it comes to compensation for reporters working in different languages.

Univision's KFTV(TV) Fresno, Calif., was the site of a 43-day hunger strike two years ago, and workers walked off the job a few months later at KMEX-TV—both over compensation issues. Smaller staffs and salaries are driven by lower revenues, Telemundo and Univision executives say.

Even AFTRA acknowledges that the revenue streams are different, but, when those revenue streams merge and are even enhanced by economies of scale, the differences should begin to disappear.

Besides staff sizes and salaries, differences between English- and Spanish-language efforts are seen in story selection and approach.

Newsroom differences can run even deeper, says a veteran who finds the Spanish-language newsroom a more personal, more emotional place.

"The culture within the newsroom is very different," says KVEA News Director Al Corral, who has also run news at English-language stations, including KPIX-TV San Francisco. English-language newsrooms tend to be more rushed, he observes. "Deadlines are deadlines, but, when people chat here, they take more time to get to know you, ask about the family … If someone sneezes, there'll be about 20 'God bless yous.' I've been [in English-speaking newsrooms] where someone could have a heart attack and no one would notice."