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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 19, 2016 4 years ago

At Home on the Air

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Tia Castle wants to become TV's next luxury real estate maven. Her success banks on international interest in Florida properties.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Tia Castle owes her business epiphany to Justine Musk.

In an online thread in 2015, the ex-wife of billionaire Elon Musk responded to the question: What does it take to become a billionaire? Justine Musk advised that one should become a master of two worlds that can be brought together to “make idea babies that no one has seen before.”

Castle had an idea for a TV show focused on luxury real estate, and Musk's words of wisdom helped her realize she could combine her expertise in television production and real estate to create a successful product.

“I had always known I wanted to merge the two worlds,” she says. “So I started the business in June 2015 and launched the show that October.”

After being test-marketed on Sarasota's SNN network, her half-hour “Home & Castle TV” program will be seen in the Miami area and Canada starting in October, reaching some 4.5 million viewers, many interested in purchasing Florida real estate. “The ultimate goal is to get it into more markets internationally and get it syndicated,” says Castle.

After obtaining a degree in broadcast journalism from American University, Castle honed her TV skills as a weekend producer and traffic anchor for Sarasota's ABC 7, but was eventually lured away by Johnson & Johnson and a higher-paying biotech sales rep position.

Though it took her out of the TV world, that position taught her sales and marketing skills she still uses today when cold-calling contacts and selling advertising on her show. “That's where I learned to be a businessperson,” she says.

After a divorce, she moved to Los Angeles and got back into TV, taking acting classes, working with producers, and appearing as an extra on shows like “Entourage.” Then she moved to Miami, where she learned about luxury living at a company that rented high-end condos, yachts and cars.

When Miami proved too distracting, she returned to Sarasota, got her real estate license, and worked as an agent for Sotheby's. She started showcasing her firm's listings on ABC 7's “Suncoast View.” “That's when I saw what I could do with my own show,” she says.

To prove her concept, Castle bought airtime on SNN. The show featured local million-dollar real estate listings along with area luxury businesses. Castle did the writing, sales, marketing and hosting, and she hired freelancers for the videography and editing. Realtors and other companies featured paid Castle a fee to produce their three-minute advertorials, which covered the costs of making the show.

“For the first show, I had to sell it for one quarter of the price it would cost to produce it just to get people on board,” she says. But she was soon able to increase prices to cover her costs and made enough money during the first six months to pay for the airtime and freelancers, but not to pay herself. “But I didn't get into debt my first six months of business,” she says. “And now in the second six months I hope to be making some money at it.”

According to Nielsen ratings from SNN, Castle's show pulled in about double the viewers of its lead-in, the nationally syndicated “Intelligence for Your Life” hosted by John Tesh. With those numbers, Castle started reaching out to larger markets. She found a good fit with the Beach Channel, broadcast in 450,000 households and 13,000 hotel rooms from South Palm Beach to Monroe County.

She worked out a deal to produce one new show a month focused on high-end real estate and luxury businesses in the channel's coverage area as well as markets such as Sarasota, Tampa, and Naples. “Realtors want a bigger audience all the time,” she says. “This is their opportunity to reach people visiting South Florida, who are in hotel rooms visiting because they want to buy property.”

She'll get the airtime for free, and in exchange the Beach Channel can run some of its own commercials during the show. Although SNN declined a similar arrangement, Canada's Real Estate Channel picked up her show. That channel boasts more than 4 million viewers and a relationship with China's Juwai website, which will feature “Home & Castle TV's” real estate listings and reach almost 3 million more people.

The new shows begin airing in October. To increase the potential for national or international syndication, Castle plans to gradually transition to more celebrity content. An upcoming show, for example, will include an interview with NFL player Karlos Dansby, a former Miami Dolphin now playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. The episode features his Miami home for sale.

Castle's goal is to no longer require Realtors to pay for their spots on the show. Once she has several of the new shows finished, she plans to approach angel investors and producing partners, as well as luxury companies that could be potential sponsors. She has a six-month contract with both channels and is researching the potential for further future expansion.
“Now's the time,” she says, “to start working on the bigger picture of what's going to happen six months down the road.”

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