Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network Segues From Cable TV To Streaming In Deal With Cinedigm

El Rey Network, via Facebook

Nearly a decade after fronting the launch of cable TV network El Rey, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez is taking its operations into the streaming realm.

In a deal with Cinedigm, which operates a portfolio of targeted streaming offerings like the Bob Ross Channel, Fandor and the Dove Channel, El Rey will continue to have a 24-7 live presence. Distribution partners have not been announced, but targets will include smart-TV and connected-TV platforms and streaming outlets like Pluto and others offering bundles of free channels.

At the beginning of its new phase, the streaming outlet will be less widely available than when it was at its cable peak, when it reached 40 million U.S. households. Even so, backers say its rebooted future is brighter given the overall shift toward streaming. Many of El Rey’s advertising relationships and resources will carry over to the new setup, and Rodriguez is an established figure who will be an asset in terms of customer acquisition, execs say.

El Rey was created by Rodriguez, his creative collaborators and FactoryMade Ventures. It was among a small group of cable networks to gain distribution on Comcast systems in connection with the company’s acquisition of NBCUniversal. In granting approval to the transaction, regulators required Comcast to support networks aimed at underrepresented communities. El Rey’s target was then (as it is now) young, English-speaking Latino viewers.

With cord-cutting accelerating and many networks facing the loss of carriage due to secular declines in ratings, El Rey’s run on cable wrapped up at the end of 2020.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Erick Opeka, Cinedigm’s president and chief strategy officer, told Deadline in an interview that Cinedigm will shoulder the initial costs of getting the service online and then “share heavily in the revenue” from advertising and other sources. While ramping up a streaming service years ago generally cost upwards of $50 million, today those costs tend to be a fraction of that.

The programming lineup has not yet been finalized. But it will include The Director’s Chair, an interview show featuring Rodriguez in conversation with filmmakers like John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino; unscripted fare like The Chuey Martinez Show; and feature films in several genres. Originals will be added to the mix down the line.

Under the deal, Cinedigm will work with El Rey to team with advertisers on custom content and will also distribute Rodriguez’s film, Red 11, which played fests like SXSW and the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes. Another distribution title will be companion docuseries Rebel Without A Crew: The Robert Rodriguez Film School. Both projects relate to the filmmaker’s fabled origin story of making the indie breakout El Mariachi for just $7,000.

Cinedigm Chief Content Officer Yolanda Macias said the service won’t have significant overlap with newer streaming efforts aimed at Hispanic viewers. Univision (formerly a minority stakeholder in El Rey) has acquired and amped up PrendeTV and Telemundo has fed thousands of hours of programming to NBCUniversal’s Peacock. “I’m always happy when I see more inclusive programming,” she said, but “El Rey is focused on younger, Latino, English-language viewer, so we’ll have a lot of room to explore.”

As to Rodriguez’s role in El Rey’s streaming chapter, Opeka said, “This is still Robert’s show. … I would expect the same level of attention to detail.”

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