Rick Rodriguez is the president and general manager of Qubo, which provides a kids programming block to Ion Media Networks (formerly Paxson Communications), NBC Universal and Telemundo. Rodriguez spent much of his career at Discovery Communications, where he oversaw the launch of Discovery Kids for Latin America and other international markets as executive vice president for content. In 2003, he was named executive vice president and general manager of Travel Channel. A year later he left to start his own consulting firm and production company. He spoke recently with Multichannel News contributor Luis Clemens about Qubo and its planned future as a digital broadcast network. An edited transcript follows:
MCN: Where did the name Qubo come from and what does it mean?
Rick Rodriguez: Qubo is an invented name. I guess the idea was to come up with a name that sounded fun and would be evocative to children. We’ve taken the name and have tried to bring it to life in terms of the logo for the network. We see the channel as kind of a toy block or a building block for children.
MCN: Was it important to come up with a name that vaguely worked in English and Spanish?
RR: Yeah, it was. Although, if I had been around I am not sure that I would have settled on Qubo. [Laughter] I think we are pleased with it. The reaction we have heard thus far from children has been very positive.
MCN: How did the whole project come about?
RR: Qubo is a cooperative venture between five different companies and depending on which partner you ask they all came up with it first and then went to the others. Basically, each of them saw a need for this kind of programming: educational, values-based programming.
MCN: Tell me about the plans for the digital broadcast network.
RR: It will be a multicast channel but the idea is to do something besides terrestrial distribution. The goal is to also distribute via cable and satellite. We’ve already begun conversations with the various platforms about carriage. In addition, we will have a pretty robust offering on the Internet and via broadband.
Once we launch the digital platform towards the end of this year, beginning of next year, it will be a 24-hour service.
MCN: Is the plan to always translate the children’s shows for Telemundo or are there plans to produce shows specifically for Telemundo in Spanish?
RR: That’s certainly what we’ve started with but the goal is actually to do more than that. I think everybody realizes the significance of the Hispanic audience and particularly in children’s programming it hasn’t actually been exploited to the degree it might be. Over time the goal would be to have really unique programming that is really targeted at the U.S. Hispanic audience. That is not necessarily in Spanish, it could be in English but the idea is to target that group of children.
MCN: You said that Hispanic children’s programming hasn’t really been fully exploited. What do you mean by that?
RR: Certainly, Univision and Telemundo have been in this marketplace for a very long time, but they really haven’t devoted significant resources to develop any kind of original content for children. So, again, we just think it is a tremendous opportunity, a very underserved market. If you are looking purely in the U.S. English-language space it is a much, much more crowded play. In the case of Spanish-language television I just think it is a lot more open field.
It is a challenge. It is a very, very tall order to develop quality content.
The idea really is to try to look at it not purely as Spanish-language programming for Spanish-speaking children. But also to try and bridge this gap between the two so Spanish-speaking children can learn English and English-speaking children can learn Spanish.
MCN: What is the relative importance of Hispanic children as part of the overall children’s audience?
RR: Clearly, there is this huge group of children that are going to be coming to America and growing up in America. The opportunity is vast and the need is great. It is just wonderful to see all of these companies recognize the importance of it and are keen to target [Hispanic children] directly and help them live the American dream.