Starting tomorrow, the Robert Rodriguez-founded network, will start streaming as a 24-7 linear offering on the Roku Channel, one of more than 190 on the free outlet. Launched in 2013 as a result of the agreement reached by Comcast and NBCUniversal with regulators yielding new commitments to diverse programming options, El Rey targeted young, English-speaking Latino viewers. It wound down its nearly decade-long run on traditional pay-TV at the end of 2020, having peaked at 40 million households. While other channels have gone dark on cable and returned as digital properties, El Rey is one of the first to attempt such a shift during the streaming era.
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The Roku Channel, which has 40,000 on-demand film and TV titles in addition to its linear offerings, reaches households with 70 million people. Since launching in 2017, it has become a leading home for free, ad-supported streaming, ranking as the No. 6 overall streaming site in a June Nielsen gauge of household reach. In the spring, Roku Channel launched an original programming banner, whose initial slate includes Quibi titles acquired last January.
With recent data suggesting that 60% of Hispanic viewers regularly stream free, ad-supported services, several other programmers have jumped into the fray. Pluto and Tubi have launched Spanish-language efforts and Univision (initially an investor in the El Rey network) just launched PrendeTV. But El Rey’s backers see little overlap in their streaming effort, which trades as the network always has on Rodriguez’s personal tastes and eclectic resume as the director of an eclectic roster of films from Spy Kids to From Dusk Till Dawn to Sin City.
El Rey does not plan an initial investment in original programming, with its 150 hours of originals almost entirely consisting of previously produced fare. The Roku Channel will be the exclusive first AVOD destination for Rodriguez’s feature film Red 11, which had a festival circuit run. Rebel Without a Crew: The Robert Rodriguez Film School will be another exclusive, starting in the first quarter of 2022. Other shows from El Rey include The Director’s Chair, featuring conversations between Rodriguez and guests like John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino; and Cutting Crew, which is centered at a barbershop outside of Philadelphia; and El Rey Nation, a geek-fandom panel series.
Roku VP of Programming Rob Holmes told Deadline in an interview that the arrangement would give El Rey access to “millions of engaged streamers.” In the streaming world, he added, networks need to do four things well: deliver compelling programming; create a compelling user experience; acquire and retain users; and then monetize those users. Most programmers are comfortable with only the first of the four, he said.
“You’ve seen huge investments from big folks like Disney,” he said, “but there are many people who aren’t prepared to do those other three things. Recognizing that, they can be very successful at doing that first thing, which they’ve always been good at. …. They can rely on the Roku Channel to bring these other three capabilities and do it at a really big scale.”
Cinedigm, a specialist in streaming, joined forces with El Rey to take its network into the digital realm and refine the user experience. Unlike many other cable networks during the 2010s, El Rey never built an authenticated TV Everywhere app.
John Fogelman, CEO of FactoryMade Ventures and a co-founder of El Rey, told Deadline Rodriguez had been envisioning a leap to streaming since at least 2020. The environment “feels much more right” than cable, he said, but “it just wasn’t available when we started.”
Fogelman said El Rey will aim to use Roku as the foundation for other streaming deals with other providers. The economics of digital distribution are different from traditional pay-TV, where programmers get a dual revenue stream via carriage fees and advertising. Streaming channels take part in a revenue share from both distribution and ads, but the margins are slimmer and the tech platforms control most of the viewership data. Along with the technical challenges involved in taking a channel from cable to streaming, Fogelman said the whole experience was tantamount to “ripping off the Band-Aid.”
Based on initial feedback through various channels, he said, viewers are grateful to have a chance to keep tuning in. “That beat-up crown that Robert designed” in the El Rey logo, Fogelman said, “really means a lot to a lot of people.”
Ashley Hovey, Director of AVOD, The Roku Channel, said El Rey fits the Roku business model and the realities of streaming. Nine out of 10 U.S. Hispanic households are now streaming in the U.S., she said, making it “clear there is a growing demand for engaging, high quality Latinx entertainment. El Rey is changing the programming world in an exciting way that speaks to the future of audience discovery and engagement.”
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