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Q&A: AIM TV’s Robert Rose

Robert Rose is convinced that the future of Hispanic television lies in what he calls the “larger half” of the Latino market: U.S.-born, English-dominant Latinos. So it was with this in mind that in 2002 he set out to found AIM TV, a production company in New York City to produce syndicated shows targeting this demographic. With AmericanLatino and LatiNation now in 103 and 92 markets, respectively, Rose this year agreed to sell his company for an undisclosed amount to Los Angeles-based LATV. Rose, a self-labeled bi-coastal TV executive, spoke recently to Hispanic TV Update about the upcoming changes in the syndicated shows he created, an unexpected ad revenue growth and the horrors of jetlag. An edited transcript follows:

Q: Eight months into being acquired by LATV, what would you say have been the biggest developments for American Latino and LatiNation?

A: The biggest surprise, for me, is that our advertising sales have increased dramatically. And I don’t know exactly why. I can only attribute it to the acquisition. We’re having the best year ever, with our ad sales up 15% year to year. August is going to be our best month ever in the history of the company. We had never had a month like this since 2002. And what makes it even more amazing to me is that this is happening amid a bad economy. That is something I didn’t really count on.

Q: Would you say this is a result of new advertisers coming onboard, or are your current advertisers spending more on the shows?

A: It is a combination of both, new advertisers and increased activity from existing ones. This year for example we added Starburst and State Farm to our roster, and when you have major brands such as these come onboard, they have a dramatic effect because we don’t have that much inventory. We’re talking about one-hour blocks on the weekend. But we also got increased activity from existing advertisers, including Anheuser-Busch, Volkswagen, Verizon Wireless and McDonald’s.

Q: Why do you think this is?

A: I think the acquisition allowed us to focus on our main business and get away from other things that come with running a business, like bookkeeping and accounting and all that stuff. [LATV’s] infrastructure has absorbed that. But it is also the result of six years of hard work, trying to beat the drum. The Hispanic market doesn’t really turn on a dime always; it changes slowly. Finally you reach a tipping point and people recognize that the second- and third-generation Latino market is big and it’s still untapped, so advertisers are finally thinking ‘hey, we need to do something about it’ and not only rely on Spanish-language TV to get our message out. I think that message finally hit home among many advertisers.

Q: I remember you beating the drum for several years now… and still most ad dollars -- and ratings -- go to Spanish-language TV…

A: If you look at where we are now and where we were in 2002, you’ve got now three cable networks and LATV a multicast digital network that are targeting the same market that we are essentially; and you got our syndicated shows. The challenge is of course achieving scale and ratings; and we’ve been fortunate because we have an old-school business model [syndication].

Our shows are shown on major broadcast stations so we’ll get those ratings, eventually. And because we are targeting programming, we have a premium attached to our show, so we can say what makes our 1.0 rating different from someone else’s 1.0 rating? The difference is the audience. Big networks like the Univisions and the Telemundos ratings will begin to sink down as they become a victim of fragmentation, just like NBC, ABC and CBS are right now. So you’ll see a bit more equalization.

The most important this is: what is the audience you are trying to reach? And the difference now is that someone can say I want to budget X% of my budget to reach U.S.-born or English-speaking Latinos and they have now a multitude of properties to chose from and do a campaign, whereas in 2002 they didn’t.

Q: Do you have enough content to offer advertisers?

A: Well, now we are at a point where we need product to sell to advertisers. We have two shows on the air and a quarterly special [American Latino Presents] but we need to grow; we need to put more product on the air. We need to roll out new shows but we don’t want to cannibalize our current shows.

Q: When it comes to production, how much have you been able to tap into LATV resources?

A: A lot of it is things that you wouldn’t even notice; but the first thing you notice is that the shows are now taped in a studio, a LATV studio. Also, we have shows that are more geographically balanced between the East and West Coast. This is because LATV allows us to have a 24/7, 365-day production presence, which allows our team in New York travel to places like Florida, Chicago, Denver, and cover more cities.

Q: What about distribution?

A: We have teamed up with a lot of affiliates that carry LATV on their secondary channel, and some of them now carry us on their primary channel. This is the case of KTRC, the NBC affiliate in Houston [a Post Newsweek station], which carry LATV on their secondary digital channel and they picked up our show this season in Houston.

Q: What plans are there to revamp both shows?

A: This season coming up (October) there will be a brand new look for American Latino, our oldest show. It will now be hosted out of Los Angeles, at LATV studios. It’s going to be very different looking from LatiNation.

Q: With Latinos spending more and more time online, do you plan to do something on the Web?

A: Essentially we had just dipped our feet on the water in December, when we launched our video on the Web platform on the Web, and then the acquisition happened in January so we had to put our Internet plans on hold; after all our main business is television, that’s where the money comes from. But [revamping the site] is an initiative for 2009 and we’re working on that. My thing for next year, as I transition my duties away, I’ll be able to focus on things like that. We have to, because that’s where the audience is.

Q: Have you moved to L.A yet?

A: Well, I’m sort of trying to be bi-coastal but the jet lag kills me. So eventually I am going to make a decision.