In a new series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.
This installment is with Albert Rodríguez, the COO of SBS since 2012. Aside from digital and television broadcast operations, SBS owns and operates some of the country’s top Spanish-language radio stations, in addition to operating AIRE Radio Networks, a national radio platform of over 300 affiliated stations.
Albert Rodríguez: I oversee the day-to-day operations of Spanish Broadcasting System, reporting directly to the chairman. I oversee his strategic business units which are radio, television (La Mega), digital (La Musica) and their entertainment division. Our platform reaches over 25 million Hispanics across the country, but we predominantly reach people who want to listen to music.
I work out of my home office, typically from eight to 10:30 or 11. Then I go to our offices in Miami and am there until probably four before I return to my home office until 8 p.m. I have to go to the office because I have so many things filed away. I’ve also been meeting with clients in the big conference room and with some of our TV talent. We never stopped producing television from our studios.
Radio is produced from homes, but we have a few board operators that still come in. The biggest challenge was adapting our business strategy to work from home for the first few weeks. We have furloughed some employees, but we haven’t let anybody go. Overall, our most impacted segment are live experiences, but we’ve softened the impact by creating experiences for viewers and listeners at home through our La Musica app.
On a national level, for the first week or two of the COVID-19 pandemic, radio listening went down a little, per Nielsen, because people were adjusting to the news of the pandemic and people were tuning in to other platforms.
Now, according to Nielsen, radio listening is back where it used to be and trending even higher. People are listening to the radio a lot at home. And the reverse is happening to television. While people were initially turning a lot to television, now the numbers are back to where they were before.
But people are listening to less COVID-19-related content on radio, and the Time Spent Listening, or TSL, for music, has gone up.
We had added a lot of news to the programming in the beginning of the lockdown, with segments at the top of each hour, but we’re scaling back a little bit to four to five times a day. We are giving out relevant information from the CDC and we do have PSAs running. But in terms of news, there is less content and we’re [back to] pushing out more music.
We have done better than the industry overall. Our secret is the KPIs [Key Performing Indicators] that we use as a metric to generate ratings. It’s our internal research. In New York, for example, our 18-34 ratings, when you combine both of our stations and our streaming, we have 21% to 22% of the total New York audience listening to radio. [According to Nielsen’s April 2020 report, SBS’ Mega 97.7 FM is the No. 1 station in any language with an AQH share of 7.7. It’s followed by WLTW-Lite FM, with 6.1.] In Chicago, La Ley is the No. 1 Hispanic station and El Terrible is the No. 1 morning show in San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. We improved our signal tremendously and Chicago has gone through the roof.
In terms of revenue, people are holding off, but we have a plan to get revenue up to where it should be. We’re working with local officials, because the most important thing is to make sure our listeners and viewers and partners and clients are safe. And we’re starting to see an uptick in advertising for automotive, packaged goods and pharmaceuticals.
Our entertainment strategy has changed. We’ve had to bring the experience from the stadiums and arenas to the homes, to the cars, or to the phones. We’re focused more than ever on bringing that experience to mobile, where we over-index. Everybody has had to adapt and we’ve had to adapt quite quickly. We launched “Mi Casa Es Tu Casa” [My House Is Your House], a concert series, with 16 shows with artists like Maluma, Banda MS and Sebastian Yatra, from April 24 through June 26. What the listeners and viewers are looking for is the experience and that’s what we’re giving them. We’re also airing a Carlos Vives special on Mega TV around the release of his new album, for example.
We are a Hispanic broadcast platform. We reach 25 million-26 million people on a weekly basis with our network of 300 affiliates. But one thing is to reach the Hispanic population and the other is to reach and connect like we do. We really do see light at the end of the tunnel.
They’re saying the comeback for radio is going to be very, very strong in the summer. The advertising community will come back very strong and we are working closer than ever with our partners and advertisers.