Q&A: V-me TV’s Frank Donaldson

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With over 20 years in broadcast sales and marketing experience, Frank Donaldson this year was tapped as senior vice president and director of advertising sales for V-me, where he is charged with attracting ad dollars to the fledgling Spanish-language network. The task is not easy as networks struggle to compete for dollars in what looks to be a weak advertising market for Hispanic TV. Donaldson, a former Univision executive, spoke to Hispanic TV Update about his network’s first upfront ever and the outlook for this year’s upfront market. An edited transcript follows:

Q: On May 13 V-me held its very first upfront presentation in New York City, right before Univision’s event in Lincoln Center. How did the event go?

A: [Our first upfront] not only surpassed our expectations but it was important because we had an opportunity to show some people what our programming is all about and, most importantly, to really explain how multicast distribution works. Our hunch was that a lot of the industry people really don’t understand what the digital transition is all about … Even some senior people in agencies confuse digital switch with digital cable… some people even said to me: “I have to confess, but I had no idea what the whole digital thing was all about.”

Q: What’s your expectation about this upfront?

A: The meetings are only beginning, but the consensus among everybody right now in the industry is that this upfront will start off a little slow. Last year’s upfront extended really long, later than it has ever been. I think that a lot of people were concerned of what might come of the economy and that pushed things back. But this year, the economic situation represents a real challenge. The consensus now is that upfront dollars are either going to be flat or down for Spanish-language television … and that’s a first.

Q: How will this affect a fledgling network like V-me?

A: [A weak economy] is an interesting scenario, because what’s happening now is that Hispanic agencies –just like their general-market counterparts- are being held accountable, because now you have advertisers who are much more sophisticated, and they want to make sure the Hispanic market is worth the investment. They want to get the best bang for their buck, so they’re asking everyone to qualify their audience. And this is key: When you look at the Spanish-language population [in the U.S.] the real question should be: Do we have the right viewers? In other words, do we have the best consumers? If you looked at V-me, if there is such a thing as the right viewers are the best consumers, we got them.

Q: Who are these ‘right’ viewers?

A: When you look at the insurance industry, the banking industry or automotive the people who are really contributing to the consumption are not necessarily the first generation immigrants, those who work two to three jobs a day and send most of their money back to Mexico. It is the consumers who are here, who are bilingual, more educated. Those are the viewers that nobody publicly says that they want. And what’s interesting is that when you look at Univision and Telemundo, both are now focusing on qualifying their Hispanic audiences.

[This business] is not just about eyeballs anymore. Look at everyone else’s upfront presentations. Everybody is saying: It’s not about having large numbers of viewers, but showing [advertisers] that you have the right viewers. A 20-point rating has no value if it’s not the right consumer. Quality in the end is about disposable income.

Q: As a partly public network, what is it that you cannot do in terms of advertising?

A: Well, let me tell you first what we can do. We can do everything that other broadcasters do in terms of spots: we do 15 seconds, 30 seconds, etc. We can also do sponsorships, product integration and short form advertising. We don’t do comparative statements — Coke is better than Pepsi —; we don’t do any pricing and we don’t do any direct response ads. Another thing we emphasize to advertisers is that we have far less commercial time per hour — 6 minutes versus 12-15 minutes. We have far less clutter. In addition, we don’t have these tacky Direct Response commercials running next to your spot, which no advertiser wants to be next to.