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CONTENT ES REY - A Pair of PGA Members Launch Pongalo To Capture One Of The World's Biggest Underserved Markets

Posted By Matt R. Lohr, Thursday, September 08, 2016


The most recent United States census, conducted in 2010, revealed Hispanics as the country’s fastest-growing population sector. Approximately one in five individuals counted in that survey professed Hispanic heritage, and population-growth experts expect this number to more than double in the next 25 years. For rich hull and Jorge Granier, these numbers added up to opportunity, in the form of a massive, growing, and seriously underserved potential audience.

Hull and Granier are the executive chairman and CEO, respectively, of Latin Everywhere, a diversified digital media organization dedicated to providing Hispanic audiences worldwide with Latino-focused film and television content unavailable anywhere else in the digital space. Since 2014, Latin Everywhere’s YouTube and social media networks, branded under the name Pongalo (Spanish for "play it”), have collected over two billion viewers for the exclusive Hispanic film and tv content available through the services. Pongalo is also available as an ad-supported over-the-top (OTT) viewing platform and in a few months will be launching a subscription vod service priced at $5.99 per month.

While many industry leaders saw reports of the emerging Hispanic market as a revelation, it was a fact of life for Hull from the beginning. "I grew up in Texas,” he says. "Hispanic media’s always been in my world.” In the years following the census, Hull recalls that "For the first time in my life, you pick up the Wall Street Journal, and you’d see big giant U.S. advertisers Verizon and Target advertising to Latinos, as if they just got here. I was like, what is everyone talking about? This has always been a thing.”


For Granier, Hispanic media was almost literally in his blood, as a scion of Venezuela’s most celebrated broadcast media dynasty. His great-great-grandfather launched one of the country’s first radio stations in the 1930s, and it evolved into RCTV, once the most powerful and influential Venezuelan television network. Granier’s father Marcel served as the station’s general director as well as the host of Primer Plano, a controversial politically-oriented talk show. Granier was focused on a televised media career from the start. "When I had my first job at 15, I quickly turned that into an opportunity to produce a piece for television,” Granier writes via email from his home base in Miami. "And from that moment, I haven’t stopped. I always thought of my career as an international one. In today’s world, there is no other way.” Dividing his time between New York, Caracas and Los Angeles, Granier produced acclaimed televised news programs and documentary features, including 2007’s Pablo Escobar doc Pablo of Medellin.

2007 also saw a spectacular development that would prove unexpectedly instrumental to the development of Latin Everywhere and Pongalo. Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez long regarded RCTV as a threat to his administration, partly due to their airing of advertising from anti-Chávez protest groups. So when the president won re-election in 2006, he announced that the network’s operating license would not be renewed. RCTV’s broadcasting equipment was seized, and its feed was usurped by a state-run network. Granier, based in Los Angeles at the time, relocated to Miami to assist RCTV’s international headquarters during this paradigm-shifting period for the company.

Meanwhile Hull, a Hollywood producer whose credits include the hit teen comedy She’s All That (1999), was looking to shift his focus to digital media. He decided after a key conversation, that whatever form his digital endeavor would take, it would have a Hispanic focus. "One day,” Hull remembers, "I went to go have a beer with a friend of mine who was Latino, and he said, ‘I just got this Android phone, 99 bucks, and I can do everything on it but watch (Hispanic) films and TV shows because there’s nowhere to get them.’ And I said, well, of course there is. You just don’t know where to look. But sure enough, my friend was right. It didn’t exist. So I said, maybe I just need to start this.”

Around this time, Hull and Granier first met and forged an immediate friendship, though the idea of partnering to pursue potential opportunities in the Hispanic digital media space developed more gradually. "We knew we were both in the same wheelhouse,” says Granier, "with the opportunity we saw in the Hispanic space. But it took us a while to finally say let’s do this together.”

Hull and Granier’s first innovative step was to reverse the usual trajectory followed by start-up digital distribution platforms. "We said, ‘What are the mistakes everybody makes when they launch a streaming platform?’” says Hull. "It seems like they always had this same point of failure. They would get all this technology and then go out and try to get content. And as it turns out, getting content is hard. But Jorge and I are content guys, so we thought, let’s just build it in reverse. We’ll deal with the content first, and then we’ll get the technology later.”

The key content acquisition—the bedrock on which Latin Everywhere was able to build the foundation for Pongalo— came from a homegrown source. Since losing its broadcast license, RCTV no longer had a major outlet for its thousands of hours of archived programming. So, in order to keep these programs available to the broadest audience possible, and thus still lucrative, Granier was able to convince his father to grant him exclusive worldwide digital rights to RCTV’s television library in perpetuity. These rights also gave Granier the opportunity to pitch RCTV series to U.S.-based producers and networks for possible English-language remakes. One such show, the Granier executive-produced Jane the Virgin (based on RCTV’s Juana la Virgen), has been an acclaimed success for the CW network and won its star, Gina Rodriguez, a Golden Globe.

Granier was able to combine the RCTV library with a considerable catalog of Latin American films Hull had acquired, and together they leveraged these holdings into additional acquisitions. "We started adding a whole bunch of other content,” says Hull. "Movies from Mexico, TV shows from Colombia and Argentina. We still continue to do that, and we have more than 50,000 hours of content. You put that on par with a U.S. studio in terms of volume, and we believe content gives you options, it gives you a certain amount of power.”

With this extensive content library in place, Hull and Granier then began weighing their options for the technology on which to build their streaming platform. They decide acquiring pre-developed tech, with its own practiced engineering team in place, would be a more effective use of resources than attempting to develop their own platform from scratch. After examining virtually every streaming platform then available, the partners purchased the start-up platform InMoo, also bringing the design and operations team onboard under their employ. "A lot of people had money and were pouring it into technology,” says Granier, "but with InMoo we saw a group of sophisticated engineers that could build a platform that would scale at a competitive price.”

Hull stresses the quick-action customization options that come with owning and operating your own platform. "If you just rent someone’s out-of-the-box technology platform, what you get is a platform that, while it may work, it also looks like every other platform. You have the same white background, the same layout of your movies and TV shows. It’s just your logo instead of somebody else’s. It just makes it really hard to make changes, and we wanted the ability to make changes really fast and experiment.”

Latin Everywhere launched the initial Pongalo YouTube channel in the spring of 2015, and the Pongalo label now covers a broad range of Hispanic-oriented channels presenting films and TV series, including telenovelas and children’s programs, none of which are otherwise available in the digital space. Collectively, the Pongalo YouTube channels now boast over 10 million subscribers from around the planet. From the start, Hull and Granier have emphasized the importance of making Pongalo an "authentically Latino” service, while recognizing the heterogeneous nature of the world’s Hispanic cultures. "Latinos speak the same language,” says Granier, "but they all have their different subtleties that make each group unique. We’ve found a language and programming strategy that works throughout our YouTube networks.” He is proud of Pongalo’s ability to offer its viewers and future subscribers "a truly Latino platform, with the content that they love, more variety than any other, more depth of catalog and a truly Latino feel to the user experience.”

Hull feels that Pongalo’s specifically Hispanic focus gives it the luxury of not having to "out-Netflix Netflix. We’re a great complement to Netflix, because at Netflix, you can get your Hollywood content and your House of Cards. We’re your option for everything else Latino ... Right now, I would love to go to Netflix and even see what kind of Latino-oriented content they have. I can’t, because Netflix has decided I’m not Latino. There’s not even a tab I can go to that says, ‘Latino Content Here.’ So if you think about it, we’re that tab.”

In addition to expanding their reach through Pongalo’s upcoming SVOD option, which will offer exclusive content not available through YouTube, social media, and OTT platforms, Latin Everywhere is also diversifying the range of content it will soon be able to bring to its viewers. Not only is Granier continuing to option RCTV series for English-language remakes (producers Daniel and Ben Barnz are currently preparing an English-language take on the telenovela Valentina for ABC Freeform, with Granier as an executive producer), but the company also has two original telenovelas currently in production in Latin America, both of which will be available exclusively through Pongalo streaming services.

Also, in May, Latin Everywhere announced that a stake in their company had been purchased by the Hollywood-based production/distribution outfit Revolution Studios. This deal will grant Pongalo exclusive digital rights to a 120-title library of Spanish-dubbed films from the Revolution catalog, including Granier favorites Black Hawk Down and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

"It was great to see a major Hollywood producer see the value of the Latino audience and make a real move in order to serve it,” says Granier. "I’m sure we are going to see a lot more of that in the space, and it makes me happy because I’ve fought for years to get that recognition.” Hull acknowledges that the Revolution deal is still in the early stages but says Latin Everywhere is actively pursuing similar potential partnerships with other production and distribution shingles. "Whatever it is that gets us content, that’s what drives us,” he says. "It’s that offering of content that we’re presenting. That’s what either makes us or breaks us.”

And of course Granier and Hull recognize that, even with their own proprietary platform technology, exclusive content, and current and future production company partnerships, it is Latin Everywhere’s unique ability to target and serve its demographic that has allowed it to become the digital leader in Hispanic film and TV content presentation—a not-inconsiderable proposition when weighed against a currently estimated $1.4 trillion in Hispanic buying power in the United States alone.

"It’s the fastest growing demographic in America,” Hull says of Pongalo’s viewership. "And for Latinos, there’s nowhere else you can get the kind of content we offer, stuff you can’t get at Netflix, stuff you can’t get at Amazon. So we’re an alternative.”

"I think Latinos in the U.S. are finally realizing their own importance, both to the society and the economy,” says Granier. "In terms of entertainment, viewing, advertising and tech habits, we see that Latinos are early adopters of tech, want to be talked to directly by advertisers and want programming that’s relevant to them ... I think we have the best user interface and the most varied pure Latino content of anyone. If you want to watch telenovelas, series, super-series, movies and documentaries with Latinos, you come to Pongalo. It’s just like home.”


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