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TELEVISION & RADIO

The language of synergy

Telemundo and KNBC merge to offer programs in Spanish and English. They'll start with a bilingual broadcast of the L.A. Marathon.

March 01, 2003|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

Frantic interactions and off-the-cuff strategy meetings are everyday occurrences in the news department at KNBC-TV Channel 4 as staffers go about the business of preparing several daily newscasts. But the kinetic atmosphere of the operation is about to go bilingual.

Starting Sunday, KNBC is joining together, physically and synergistically, with Spanish-language network Telemundo and its stations KVEA-TV Channel 52 and KWHY-TV Channel 22. NBC owns both KNBC and Telemundo in one of several duopolies in the local television market. Under the duopoly rules, two stations can be owned by the same company. The KNBC-Telemundo merger is the only two-language duopoly.

Earlier this week, the KNBC building in Burbank was in the final stages of remodeling to accommodate about 250 Telemundo employees who will be relocating from Glendale. The English and Spanish news operations will maintain separate identities and focus, as well as different state-of-the-art studios. But the news operations will be positioned adjacent to each other on the same floor, working together in developing news, other programming and community outreach.

"We don't want any walls up here," said Paula Madison, president and general manager of KNBC. "We want to create this creative environment where everyone will move back and forth with ease." She noted that most Telemundo employees speak English.

The merger between KNBC and KVEA is getting off to a running start Sunday when the stations simultaneously broadcast the L.A. Marathon in separate English and Spanish presentations. The two live broadcasts will have different anchors and reporters, and will cover the event from distinct cultural perspectives. But executives said the goal of both stations is the same -- to celebrate the multicultural nature of the event.

The joint efforts will continue April 27 with "Fiesta Broadway," billed as the nation's largest Cinco de Mayo-related celebration, drawing more than 500,000 people to downtown Los Angeles. KNBC and KWHY will tape the daylong festivities in separate productions, and air them in a one-hour special May 3.

NBC is anticipating that the KNBC-Telemundo "duopoly" -- in which NBC owns three stations, one over the current limit -- will be allowed under new rules being considered by the Federal Communications Commission, which has offered indications that it favors increased deregulation. NBC is hoping to maintain ownership of the smaller KWHY, and, along with Viacom and Fox Entertainment, has urged the FCC to scrap all remaining media-ownership rules, which they say are no longer needed to spur competition.

Madison said the effort to make the two operations into a powerful, single entity is in full swing. "The executives at NBC knew back in 2000 that the network needed to be on the ground floor in this increasingly Spanish-language market," she said. "Being with Telemundo gives us the profile we need. It enhances our visibility."

Added Manuel Abud, vice president and general manager of Telemundo Los Angeles: "The opportunities are huge on our side. This gives us a substantial increase in resources and really gives us a chance to grow." Telemundo is a distant second to Univision, the top-ranked Spanish-language network in the country.

But Madison is quick to point out that, unlike the merger between KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV in which on-camera reporters bounce back and forth between the two stations, there will be little if any on-camera crossover between KNBC and Telemundo. The stations will have separate studios and news teams.

"It's not our intention to turn our station into KNBC en espanol," Madison said. "We serve different audiences, and we don't want to cannibalize each other's viewership. But in terms of finance, engineering, human resources and business, we will be very much together. There is efficiency in our working together."

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L.A. Marathon

Where: KNBC-TV Channel 4 (in English); KVEA-TV Channel 52 (in Spanish)

When: 8 a.m. to noon Sunday

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