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Tips in Two Languages

While many programmers wrestle over whether they should be reaching their Hispanic audiences in English or in Spanish, public station KCET is doing both.

In Los Angeles, one of the nation's largest Hispanic markets, KCET offers the daily talk show A Place of Our Own in English and talker Los Niños en Su Casa in Spanish. The programs, which have separate hosts and often different guests, deal with parallel issues each week, offering tips on early-childhood development.

Faced with a plethora of cable networks airing documentaries and how-to programs that have long been staples on public TV, KCET executives sought to redefine the station's role. In 2002, they responded by launching educational initiative KCEd.

“Educational programming is something you don't see on cable,” notes Mary Mazur, executive VP of programming and production at KCET.

As station executives worked on their educational initiative, they increasingly focused on doing something for preschool children and their minders. “KCET covers a market that has more children under the age of 5 than you'll find in 48 of the 50 states in the U.S,” Mazur says.

But only a third are in formal childcare settings where they receive some sort of math and verbal instruction, and educators worried that the other 65% would face a severe disadvantage when they entered school—one that could hinder them for life.

“Our research showed that these children start out behind other children,” Mazur explains. “If they don't get help early on and catch up by the time they reach the second grade, there is only a 50% chance that they [ever] will.”

KCET decided to develop a program that would target the parents, relatives and other people who were taking care of these children. Extensive focus groups confirmed the need for such programming, with one woman saying she'd love to have “a place of our own,” where caregivers could learn more about nurturing pre-school children. With that, A Place of Our Own was born.

Such groups also convinced the station to expand its initial plans beyond simply doing an English-language version. “One hundred percent of the women who spoke only Spanish said they wanted to watch a show like this,” notes Mazur. “We realized that the women who most wanted to watch the show wouldn't be reached. Even the researcher came up to me and said, 'How can we not do this for them?'”

The station agreed, thanks to funding from BP, First 5 California, First 5 LA and the California Community Foundation. KCET turned to 44 Blue Productions, whose reality shows and documentaries have appeared on CBS and ESPN, among others. “We wanted to create a show that would be fun for both caregivers and kids and 44 Blue had extensive experience in syndication,” notes Mazur.

Executive Producer, Stephanie Drachkovitch, worked on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire at Buena Vista TV. She compares her dual-language task to creating the American version of the British Millionaire. “It hasn't really been as difficult as you would imagine,” she says.

Two production teams were set up for each show. Five shows in English are shot on Tuesday and five in Spanish on Thursday, often with different guests. The teams collaborate on the shows' common video packages.

Dual-language versions of the same show have been produced before, such as English and Spanish versions of Sesame Street. But few, if any, producers have successfully done side-by-side shows in different languages on such a rigorous schedule—five days a week, 24 weeks a season.

Since the shows were unfurled in California in September 2004, audiences have grown. Unduplicated viewers for all the broadcasts between October 1 to May 31 were up 51% to 5.6 million, and unduplicated households rose 50% to over 3 million.

Extensive community outreach efforts are a major part of the growth: KCET has done over 500 workshops for caregivers.

Those will help the shows achieve the same success when they roll out nationwide in January 2007, believe PBS executives. “One of the most important things is the tremendous amount of community outreach they do,” notes Gustavo Sagastume, VP of programming at PBS. “They connect the TV screen directly to the home and the caregivers.”

KCET just hired an executive to syndicate the shows to PBS stations around the country, and station executives are excited by their prospects. Says Sagastume: “I think it will be very well received by our stations and caregivers all over the country.”