Without neglecting the dynamic magazine side-Abril's Veja is the fourth largest weekly newsmagazine in the world by circulation, and the company publishes 230 magazines-Abril is becoming a leader in all of Brazil's new forms of TV: cable, satellite, pay TV.
Mr. Civita is a book collector whose first love is print-the scent of ink, the feel of a printed page.
"I'm a print character," he said. But "it became obvious to me that if Abril was to consider itself a communications group, it could not remain indefinitely in paper and ink."
Timing was everything. During two decades of military dictatorship dating from 1964, the Brazilian government considered Abril one of its most dangerous critics and banned the publisher from expanding into broadcast media. A return to civilian rule in the mid-1980s opened up new choices for Abril.
"At that point I decided that we had to do it, whether I liked it or not," he said.
Brazil has 30 million TV homes, including 8 million to 10 million with VCRs, but only 500,000 pay TV homes. Abril is already the largest pay TV operator, with 350,000 subscribers to its pay TV service, called TVA, and 35,000 new subscribers signing up every month for a package including MTV: Music Television, ESPN, CNN International, Discovery, the Disney Channel and the Playboy Channel.
"You can multiply the number of pay TV subscribers by at least 10 and, I think, by 20 in a relatively short time," Mr. Civita said. "This is the most exciting market in the world although, in Brazil, a very complicated financial equation. Credit in Brazil is very expensive and the [TV] business demands gigantic investments upfront. But if inflation stays down, it's going to skyrocket!"
Next year, he predicted, a satellite will speed the revolution by delivering 72 channels to homes with a small dish. Abril also has a rival in TV Globo, Brazil's largest terrestrial TV network and another new media contender.
Mr. Civita prides himself on running the family media business like a first-world company despite operating in the third world. Outsiders frequently praise Abril for its professional management and investment in people and technology.
Each decade of Abril's life has wrought seismic changes. Roberto's father Victor Civita founded Editora Abril in 1950 with the rights to publish Donald Duck comic books in Brazil. For a decade, he churned out kids' comics and romantic women's magazines. In the 1960s, Abril started covering Brazil's fledgling auto industry with Quatro Rodas (literally, Four Wheels) and recognized the emergence of modern Brazilian women with the glossy magazine Claudia, still the country's best-selling women's title.
The red-letter year was 1968, when Abril's most successful title was launched; weekly newsmagazine Veja now has a circulation of 1,037,000. Fat with ads and backed by the crack subscription and distribution systems that are two of Abril's greatest strengths, Veja also enjoys a reputation for integrity nurtured during years of battling the military government's censors.
In the 1970s, Roberto Civita's entrepreneurial mother invested in hotels, refrigeration warehouses and packaging companies. The company was split in the early 1980s, with Roberto keeping the publishing operations and his brother Richard getting the non-communications businesses.
After becoming president of Abril in 1982, Roberto Civita diversified by setting up new, smaller publishing units to develop specific areas. Abril Video has become Brazil's largest video manufacturer and distributor. Another unit, the Exame Business Group, publishes Exame, Brazil's largest business magazine, and business directories, computer magazines, and titles aimed at high-income readers.
Last year, Abril launched Brazil's first CD-ROM title, an almanac.
"We made a lot of mistakes," Mr. Civita said. "If there are a hundred things you can do wrong when setting up a new business, we've done 99."
Abril has gone international with mixed success. In fact, 95% of the company's sales, which will top $1 billion for the first time this year, still come from Brazil. An early venture in Spain, Abril's first attempt to publish in a language other than Portuguese, flopped.
"I'm persuaded today that the only way you can get into another country with a different culture from your own is to find a local partner who knows the market," Mr. Civita said. "Discovering this felt like small children discovering that if you put a bobby pin into an electric plug you get a shock!"
Today, Abril has a children's publishing operation for Spanish-speaking Latin America, a publishing company in Portugal and a joint venture with publisher Perfil in Argentina.
Abril has suffered hard times through Brazil's periodic recessions and sky-high inflation. The company celebrated last summer's unprecedented plunge from hyperinflation of 50% a month to 2% a month by lowering cover prices up to 40%, and single-copy sales soared by 40%.
Mr. Civita sees his mission as maintaining Abril's position as Brazil's premier information, education and entertainment provider.
"The demand for entertainment is insatiable," he said. "The question is how much and how well can you provide it. But it still takes someone with a passion or you don't do it.
"No passion, no magazine.'
BIRTH DATE: Aug. 9, 1936.
FAMILY: Two sons, 32 and 30, and a daughter, 29.
EDUCATION: Wharton School of Economics, Philadelphia; Columbia University, New York, degree in sociology.
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: After working as a Time Inc. trainee, he returned to SÌo Paulo in 1958 to join his family's publishing business, Editora Abril. His various positions there included founding editor of Realidade magazine, advertising director of Editora Abril and publisher of Veja newsmagazine before becoming president of Abril in 1982. Appointed chairman-CEO in 1990 after the death of his father, Victor.
HOBBIES: Cooking Italian food, tennis, reading.