Thursday, March 23, 2023

Robert Rodriguez’s Revived El Rey Network Clinches Roku Channel Deal

The El Rey Network, which is getting set to make a rare transition from cable TV to free streaming, has set a deal for crucial real estate on the Roku Channel.

Starting tomorrow, the Robert Rodriguez-founded network, will start streaming as a 24-7 linear channel on the Roku Channel, one of nearly 200 offered on the free outlet. Founded as a result of the agreement reached by Comcast and NBCUniversal with regulators that would result in diverse programming options, El Rey targeted young, English-speaking Hispanic viewers. It wound down its nearly decade-long run on traditional pay-TV at the end of 2020. While other channels have gone dark on cable and returned as digital properties, El Rey is one of the first to try to shift during the streaming era.

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.

For now, El Rey will not feature much new programming, with its 150 hours of originals almost entirely previously produced fare. The Roku Channel will be the exclusive first AVOD destination for audiences to watch 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.

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 deliver the app experience. Unlike other cable networks, the outfit 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.

“Like Roku and Robert, El Rey Network is not afraid to break new ground to bring culturally diverse entertainment from some of today’s most exciting and break-through storytellers to millions of engaged streamers on The Roku Channel,” Fogelman said.

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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