Could change to Spanish-language programming to reach Hispanics
A Florida-based media company is in negotiations to take over local TV station KVOS, and the purchase may mean a transformation of the station into a Spanish-language format.
The buyer, LK Station Group, is a limited liability company managed by Barbara Laurence, who has a record of buying TV stations and turning them into Spanish-language formats.
Sources close to the deal have speculated the same might happen to Bellingham-based KVOS (channel 12 on Comcast). But the question remains of whether or not KVOS’ broadcast area, which runs north to Whistler, B.C. and south to Everett, could support a Spanish station, and Laurence isn’t giving any hints about her intentions.
Details of the sale include a tangle of subsidiary names and purchase terms, but the simplified version goes like this: The current owner of KVOS, Ackerley Broadcasting Operations LLC, is a subsidiary of national media giant Clear Channel Communications.
According to Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) documents and a company press release, Clear Channel Communications is in negotiations to sell 56 TV stations across the country, including KVOS, to a Providence, R.I.-based company, Providence Equity Partners, Inc.
The $1.2 billion acquisition was announced in April 2007.
As a spin-off deal, Providence is in negotiations to sell two of those 56 Clear Channel stations — KVOS and a Santa Rosa, Calif., TV station, KFTY — to Laurence’s LK Station Group for $26.6 million.
Both deals need Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval of license transfers between companies in order to close. According to FCC documents, Clear Channel applied to assign its KVOS license to Providence in May 2007, and Providence applied to assign that license to LK Station Group in September. Neither had been approved by the FCC at press time.
Earlier this month, however, the deal between Clear Channel and Providence hit a glitch when Clear Channel confirmed that Providence is considering withdrawing from the transaction.
The deal has not been terminated, though, and a Nov. 9 article in The Wall Street Journal reported that Providence might try to renegotiate the purchase price.
If the acquisition goes through, there is a chance that Bellingham’s only local broadcast station other than BTV10 could be converted into a Spanish-language format.
According to an article in Santa Rosa’s The Press Democrat newspaper on Oct. 12, unnamed sources close to the deal said LK Station Group might convert KFTY into a Spanish-speaking station.
Laurence is at least part owner in five other TV stations in Texas, Nevada, Arizona and California, several of which she turned into Spanish-language formats after purchasing.
In 2004, one of Laurence’s companies, Bela Broadcasting, acquired a Ventura County TV station, converted it to a Spanish-language format and built a repeater tower to broadcast the signal across the greater Los Angeles market. The station now broadcasts MTV tr3s — a Spanish-language version of the music channel.
Other stations owned in part by Laurence include an independent Spanish-language station in Del Rio, Texas; a station in Laughlin, Nev., that broadcasts the Mexico-based Teleformula network; and a station in Barstow, Calif., that has not been converted to Spanish-language format.
A Sept. 2007 news brief in Hispanic Market Weekly, an industry newsletter, reported that Laurence’s acquisition of KVOS and KFTY would be the first of “what is set to become a significant group of stations targeting Hispanics,” with the Del Rio and Laughlin stations already part of the group.
When reached briefly by cell phone, Laurence confirmed she has converted some stations to Spanish language format, but would not comment on her plans for KVOS.
Cambra Ward, KVOS’ general manager, said she could not comment on the issue.
It’s hard to tell if that model would work in KVOS’ broadcast area. Many of Laurence’s Spanish-speaking stations are located in areas heavily populated by Hispanics, like Del Rio, which is located in Val Verde County where 78.2 percent of the population is Hispanic.
According to KVOS’ Web site, 3 million viewers are located in its coverage area, and while Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties have far fewer Hispanic residents than Val Verde County, their Hispanic populations are growing at a faster rate than the nation as a whole, according to the U.S. Census (see sidebar on page 13).
There are about 120 Spanish language stations in the United States, according to Bacon’s TV Directory for 2008. It lists only three of those located in Washington state — KCWK in Walla Walla, KHCV in Redmond and KUNS in Seattle.
KUNS, a station that offers all-day programming from the largest Spanish-language broadcaster in the country, Univision, can be viewed as far north as Bellingham, as can KHCV, which periodically broadcasts the Spanish-language network, Azteca America.
Jesse Cantu, owner of Jalapeños restaurant on West Holly Street and president of the Washington Latino Business Association, said he thinks there is a market in this area for another Spanish language station. He said that he thinks the actual Hispanic population in Whatcom and Skagit counties is probably double what the census estimates.
Cantu compared this area to Houston 30 years ago when he immigrated to the United States from Mexico. At that time, there was only one Spanish language TV program for one hour a day in Houston. Now, most Southern states have about eight to 10 Spanish language TV stations and about 20 radio stations broadcasting all day long, he said.
“It’s going to be the same here,” he said. “Within the next five years it will be an investment.”
Cantu said he supported another Spanish language TV station. Most Spanish speakers in Whatcom County get their news from Univsion.com and its TV channel, which he said was limited because of its national scope and lack of local news and information. There are also a few Spanish language newspapers in the area, like La Raza and Community Connection, a bilingual magazine.
A local Spanish-language station would enable more business advertising opportunities for Hispanic-focused businesses and could bridge gaps between English- and Spanish-speaking markets, he said.
Dennis Lane, executive director of Whatcom Community Television and Communications, was less convinced.
If the buyer did convert the station, Lane said, it would likely be a long-term investment and probably could only support partial Spanish-language programming at first.
As for the loss of KVOS’ current local programming, limited to the thrice-weekly “Northwest Notebook,” Lane said it wouldn’t be much of a loss.
The station canceled its daily morning news show, “NewsView,” in January due to a lack of advertising.
“Right now its mostly movies, and a lot of it seems directed northward to Canada,” Lane said of the station’s programming. “It wouldn’t be much of a loss but more possibly a gain.”
Lane said he would like to see the station have a mix of local Spanish- and English-language programming.
“Here in Whatcom County, there is no local access,” he said. “I think there is a need for it.”
Lane’s media advocacy organization has tried unsuccessfully to get a public access station in Bellingham for the last 10 years and also works with local radio broadcasters.
“Local TV programming is important because a large part of our info gathering comes from TV,” he said. “There are so many things happing in this community, it makes it important to have a local view.”
A national trend
Nationally, the Hispanic media market is growing in pace with the growth of the Spanish-speaking population, said professor Federico Subervi, director of the Latinos in Media Project at Texas State University.
As of 2005, 12 percent of Americans over the age of 5 spoke Spanish at home, up from 11.1 percent in 2002. Univision ended the 2005 to 2006 TV season as the fourth-largest broadcast network in prime time among adults aged 18 to 24, and among all audiences, it was the nation’s fifth- largest broadcast network behind ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, according to the 2007 State of the News Media report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The report predicted that as immigrant populations spread, small media outlets will arise to serve them.
“Latinos in particular still tend to congregate into Spanish-speaking communities, and as those communities grow, they will probably develop more media,” the report stated.
Subervi said that the strength of Latino media comes from the Latino community’s sense of culture, which remains strong because it provides relevance for the immigrant population despite differences in politics and business issues. At the same time, it helps Spanish speakers stay informed about Anglo culture, as well.
“The myth is that these media create separate communities, but these stations actually maintain cultural ties and help them learn about the dominant culture,” he said.
Whether or not this happens in Bellingham remains to be seen. For now, KVOS’ fate of becoming a Spanish-language station is still “solamente una posibilidad.”
KVOS’ range: From Everett to Vancouver, B.C.
Hispanic/Latino population statistics
# of Hispanic residents = 11,510
Percent of total population = 6.2
Percentage change from previous count = +32
# of Hispanic residents = 8,687
Percent of total population = 5.2
Percentage change from previous count = +133
# of Hispanic residents = 3,718
Percent of total population = 2.9
# of Hispanic residents = 15,683
Percent of total population = 13.6
Percentage change from previous count = +35
# of Hispanic residents = 11,536
Percent of total population = 11.2
Percentage change from previous count = +166
# of Hispanic residents = 4,335
Percent of total population = 5.4
# of Hispanic residents = 43,714
Percent of total population = 6.5
Percentage change from previous count = +52
# of Hispanic residents = 28,590
Percent of total population = 4.7
Percentage change from previous count = +168
# of Hispanic residents = 10,656
Percent of total population = 2.2
# of Hispanic residents = 44,252,278
Percent of total population = 14.8
Percentage change from previous count = +25
# of Hispanic residents = 35,305,818
Percent of total population = 12.5
Percentage change from previous count = +57
# of Hispanic residents = 22,354,059
Percent of total population = 8