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Los Angeles
Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

Station Finds Clear Signal in Multiple Languages

When pop star Michael Jackson went on trial earlier this year on child-molestation charges, Los Angeles television station KSCI couldn’t spare a reporter to camp out at the Santa Maria courthouse.

So managers of the station, which broadcasts on Channel 18 principally in Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog, did what they do best: They localized the coverage.

That meant skipping the trial but devoting hours of air time to analyzing the legal issues for viewers with little to no knowledge of U.S. jurisprudence. KSCI News Director April Kuan also produced a lengthy feature and interview with Susan Yu, a Korean American attorney who served on Jackson’s defense team.

“The whole effort is to try to be a local station,” said Peter Mathes, chairman of station owner Asian Media Group LLC. “For us, especially as the only (broadcast) Asian-language station here, we have to keep our viewers connected.”

Compared with a growing crop of overseas competitors such as Phoenix and Taiwan-based ETTV, KSCI is tiny: its eight on-air reporters speak Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese and double as anchors and talk-show hosts and edit their own video. But the 25-year-old station, which broadcasts in 13 languages, is thinking bigger than ever.

In February, its nondescript set was replaced with a sophisticated, modern layout, infomercials were eliminated in favor of live programming, and graphics were jazzed up. All of which appears to be helping KSCI attract new viewers, according to executives at the privately held station, even as more choices are available via cable and satellite.

Not that gauging results is especially easy. KSCI had a 0.11 percent share of overall prime-time local viewership in May 2005, according to Nielsen Media Research, which translates to roughly 100,000 households.

KSCI does not subscribe to Nielsen Media Research, the leading provider of television ratings data, because its audience share is small as a proportion of the overall population and it is split among 13 languages. But Mathes said the Nielsen numbers are consistent with the station’s audience research.

Advertising across cultures

Owned by the private equity firm Leonard Green & Partners LP, Asian Media Group does not disclose revenue or profits. The company also owns KIKU (Channel 20) in Honolulu.

But the group’s executives claim that the stations have benefited from a boom in Asian-language advertising from companies like Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which began advertising in Asian languages in March.

Bill Imada, chairman of IW Group Inc., an Asian American advertising agency in West Hollywood, said KSCI is relying on its loyal viewers to hold market share against the tide of satellite competitors. ETTV, for example, broadcasts separate programming on six satellite channels available to U.S. households and splices in advertising specific to the United States.

“There’s a lot more competition out there not so much for free access but also for cable and satellite,” Imada said. “We have lots of choices. They have a lot of competition, but they’ve been around for a really long time and have strong connections to the community.”

Imada said KSCI’s attempts to reach advertisers are complicated by the lack of detailed information on its audience share.

Nielsen’s sample population of 800 households in the L.A. market includes 88 Asian American households, roughly proportional to the Asian population as a whole. But Nielsen officials acknowledge the challenge of pinpointing ratings for small and specialized audiences.

In the Los Angeles market, for example, 2 percent of the population speaks Chinese and half of them use Chinese as their principal language.

“You’re dealing with trying to measure 1 percent of the population,” said Paul Donato, Nielsen’s senior vice president and chief research officer. “Any community that speaks different languages is going to be harder to reach.”

Donato and others said Nielsen is refining its approach to gauging non-English-speaking audiences and would like to get KSCI as a client. Nielsen recently signed KTSF (Channel 26) in San Francisco as its first Asian-language television client.

For now, Mathes said that KSCI points to research about the size and spending power of the Asian American market in Southern California, as well as doing some of its own audience research informally.

When the station canceled “Taiwan News” a half-hour program produced in Taiwan a torrent of phone calls and e-mail messages persuaded station managers to change course.

KSCI’s own audience research led station officials to conclude that few people were watching the program, but the response to the cancellation said otherwise. Station officials dubbed the response the “Grandmother Revolt” because most of the viewers were elderly women who lacked satellite and cable options to watch Taiwanese news by other means.

Though KSCI emphasizes local news and call-in programming, the bulk of its broadcast schedule remains news and entertainment programs from other countries, as well as infomercials. KSCI produces two hours of programming each weekday in Mandarin, Tagalog and Vietnamese, and buys an additional half-hour of locally produced Korean-language programming.

On weekends and outside of prime time, its broadcast lineup is dominated by programs that producers and foreign networks pay the station to air. Programs in Hindi, Farsi, Armenian, Hebrew, Arabic, Indonesian, Khmer, Japanese and English are produced overseas and in the United States and provided to the station complete with advertising. Some are produced by religious broadcasters without commercial advertising. The producers and networks negotiate a rate with KSCI to air the programming.

Mathes said KSCI plans to boost its lineup of local programs in the next year while continuing to emphasize sophisticated production values.

Jack MacKenzie, senior vice president of Frank N. Magid Associates, a television consultancy that worked for the station, said that since early 2004, KSCI has transformed itself from a relatively amateurish operation to one that rivals the global satellite stations.

“Their coverage is more serious and journalistically competent,” MacKenzie said. “Prior to Peter (Mathes) and his team the station was quote-unquote just fine. Peter and his team have taken it to a new level.”


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