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KMEX Posts Sweeping Increase in Viewers

Television: Spanish station's audience is up 52% from last May, largest prime-time growth locally.

May 28, 1999|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the May sweeps wrapped up this week, Los Angeles' dominant Spanish-language television station, KMEX-TV, saw its prime-time audience post a 52% increase over last May, the biggest increase of any station in the local market, according to Nielsen Media Research, which tracks television viewership.

The station's seven-day rating of 6.4 and its 11 share of all households, regardless of language preference, gave KMEX the market's fourth-largest prime-time audience overall, behind only KNBC-TV, KABC-TV and KTTV-TV for the four-week spring sweeps period that ended Wednesday. In addition, it was the only station in the market to see its audience grow.

Tracking just Hispanic households, a separate Nielsen survey found KMEX's prime-time household audience was up 34% to a 47 share. Overall, Spanish-language television viewing grew 24% over last May to a combined 39.7% household rating for KMEX, KVEA-TV and independent KWHY-TV.

Nationally KMEX's network parent, Univision, now claims approximately 92% of the Spanish-language television audience to about 7% for Telemundo, the other Spanish-language network in the U.S., although the nationwide May survey continues through Monday. Telemundo's programming is seen locally on KVEA.

KMEX posted its biggest gain in the morning, where "Noticias 34: Primera Edicion," a one-hour news show that debuted in January, has more than doubled the ratings among all households for that time period. And in weeknight prime time, from 8 to 11 p.m., the station's ratings were up 44%--to 7.2--against its seven English-language rivals, all of whom saw their ratings drop by an average of 11%.

The station's best-performing prime-time show was the recently completed telenovela "La Mentira," which nearly doubled KMEX's 9 p.m. ratings from last May against all stations in the market.

KWHY's most-watched show was the wacky weeknight game show "Cuanto Cuesta el Show," which had a 7.8 rating among Hispanic households at 6 p.m.--more than three times what that time slot drew a year ago and a third better than KVEA's evening news, which airs at the same time.

Yet not all the news was bad for KVEA and Telemundo, which struggled to find a consistent program philosophy in its first season under Sony Corp. management. The network's cartoon block, for example, which replaced infomercials last November, has made Telemundo competitive against Univision in the mornings, while KVEA's live coverage of Mexican soccer on the weekends has drawn as many as two-thirds of all Spanish-language TV households in the L.A. market, according to Nielsen.

But Telemundo still has a long way to go, says network President Peter Tortorici, who admits his first season at the helm of a Spanish-language network was a learning experience. In preparation for his second season with Telemundo, Tortorici has entered into an agreement with Mexico's TV Azteca, which will give the network a series of edgy novelas to counter Univision's own imported dramas, long the favorite choice of Spanish-language TV viewers in the U.S.

"No question we would have liked to have performed stronger than we did," he says. "[But] we didn't have the depth of product last year to be able to do more than what we did. When you're looking at a prime-time novela schedule that runs 52 weeks a year, you've got to be prepared to compete with that 52 weeks a year.

"But we certainly haven't given up on what we started to do, which was to really focus on the U.S. Latino experience, create original product for the market and try to really do something that reflects U.S. Latino people and lifestyle in a way that isn't being done by anybody else."

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