Television Listings

Radio network selling infomercial time to musicians

By Leila Cobo

MIAMI (Billboard) - The limited playlist slots available to Latin acts on the radio may soon expand thanks to a unique programing strategy launched by the radio network Spanish Broadcasting System.

Beginning as early as this month, artists who want to get airplay on SBS stations can circumvent the network's programing department by purchasing infomercials that feature one of their tracks played in full. The "Monthly Rotating Infomercials" will be sold in packages with costs varying based on the number of spins per month.

"The idea responds to a marketplace need," says SBS Entertainment senior vice president Lucas Pina. "The company wanted to open a space for new artists."

The novel programing idea -- which may be unique for radio overall -- works like this: Developing and established artists alike can buy packages of infomercials that will air on SBS stations between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Monday through Friday and 11 p.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. The infomercials consist of an entire song preceded by an introduction that announces the artist, the title and the presenting sponsor.

That sponsor can be the performer himself, the label or a third party or brand; however, the sponsor must be named in order for the infomercial to run. Infomercials air at a network level based on genre; a tropical track, for example, will run on all of SBS' tropical stations nationwide. There isn't any other programing -- or ads -- during the infomercial slots. "It will be like an iPod playing continuous music," Pina says.

While the idea of radio infomercials promoting singles or albums isn't new, the departure here is that unlike a 30-second commercial, the track plays in full. The drawback, of course, is that the infomercials' airtimes are those with the lowest audience -- and it's not clear if these plays will count toward chart positions.

Still, Pina says, because SBS has stations in major markets like New York, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico and Miami, the program provides a window of opportunity that might otherwise never open for new artists.

"SBS has stations in major markets where the population is active at night," he says, noting that many Latin listeners work at night. In these big markets, the night programing not only exposes the music to a new audience, but it also functions almost as a real-time research system that enables programmers to evaluate whether a track has traction before adding it to the regular rotation.

While labels and artists are taking a wait-and-see attitude on the infomercials' effect on exposure and sales, slots for November are nearly full, says SBS director of new business development Manny Mora, who will run the program. Approximately one-third of the slots have been purchased by indies and two-thirds by major labels.

"If we were in small markets, the reaction would be different," Mora says. "Here, acts who could never dream of playing in a major market have an opportunity for success."

Although the infomercials are for sale, SBS can decline tracks that don't fulfill production quality or standards. "This is uncharted territory for us," Mora says. "We hope to create a new business model that will help new artists and reinforce established ones."

(Editing by SheriLinden at Reuters)

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