Univision Communications’ KMEX (Channel 34) was in an unfamiliar position recently – second place.

Last month, Telemundo’s KVEA (Channel 52) beat KMEX in the 11 p.m. time slot among viewers ages 18 to 49 for the first time in 27 years. The stations both air Spanish-language newscasts at that time and compete vigorously for viewers.

Some in the media business said KVEA’s 10 p.m. programming – the final weeks of the most recent season of a hugely popular telenovela – helped bring the additional viewers at 11.

But there’s no doubt that KVEA’s heavy investment in news over the past year also played a role. KVEA General Manager Celia Chavez said that investment is now paying off, and that beating KMEX was a proud moment.

“We’ve made an enormous amount of investment,” Chavez said. “(The ratings) gave us an additional push and it shows we can win.”

The 11 p.m. ratings are just a brief glimpse into the ongoing battle between KMEX and KVEA. The stations also air competing newscasts at 6 p.m. In an apparent attempt to gain an advantage at that time, KVEA plans to add an additional half-hour of news, beginning at 5:30, on Nov. 3.

KVEA said its 11 p.m. newscast last month attracted an average of 107,000 viewers ages 18-49, citing Nielsen data. The margin of victory was small. KMEX said its 11 p.m. newscast had an average of 106,000 viewers in that same demographic.

KMEX General Manager Alberto Mier y Terán declined an interview through a spokeswoman.

But KVEA’s first-place run appears to be short-lived. KMEX, consistently rated as the most watched TV station regardless of language in Los Angeles during prime time, is on pace to regain the top spot at 11 p.m. in the October ratings.

However fleeting last month’s victory, beating KMEX certainly raised KVEA’s profile.

Tony Aguilar-Arellano, chief integration officer at Hispanic advertising firm Acento of Santa Monica, said he’s noticed KVEA slowly gaining on KMEX.

“In general they’ve been trending up and closing the gap with Univision, but it has been a slow process,” he said.

Still, he said much of KVEA’s success at 11 p.m. last month came from viewers who watched the station’s 10 p.m. broadcast of popular telenovela “El Senor de los Cielos,” about a drug trafficker. The show aired Monday through Friday and ended Sept. 22. He said the show’s buzz grew along the way, and said each episode had a cliffhanger appeal similar to “Breaking Bad.”

The changes at KVEA are a part of a larger strategy by Telemundo parent NBCUniversal to grow its Spanish-language news operations. The additional half-hour of news at 5:30 p.m., for example, is being rolled out next month across 14 Telemundo stations in various markets.

Chavez said the investment in KVEA news operations began about a year ago, when the station hired about 20 additional newsroom staffers. The station overhauled its 5 a.m. newscast, phasing out entertainment coverage to focus more on news, traffic and weather.

The next step was to update the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts with new segments such as “52 Responde,” which addresses viewers’ problems. Chavez said KVEA has also increased ties to viewers by bringing news anchors to community events.

“Really that’s how you win their loyalty,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest development at the station was the move in June to its new studios at the Universal lot, where it shares space with KNBC (Channel 4).

Chavez said moving into the new studio afforded KVEA access to a whole range of infrastructure. It had already worked closely with KNBC prior to the move while both stations were in Burbank, but Chavez said the new studio has led to unprecedented collaboration.

Among the benefits: The stations share video feeds, which gives KVEA access to KNBC’s helicopter footage. The stations also collaborate by sharing interview footage that can be assembled to suit each station’s audience. Other perks of the new studio include dozens of interactive monitors and LED lighting.

“The overall feel of the set is vibrant and it’s very welcoming and modern and aspirational,” Chavez said.

Despite last month’s success, she acknowledged that maintaining the station’s place atop the ratings is a new challenge. Other Spanish-language competition also comes from MundoFox’s KWHY (Channel 22), EstrellaTV’s KRCA (Channel 62) and TV Azteca affiliate KAZA (Channel 54).

“It’s harder to remain No. 1,” she said.

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