WHAT THE HECK HAS A GRINGO FROM ENCINO LEARNED ABOUT THE LATINO MEDIA SPACE?!?!
Yes, it’s true, I grew up in the constantly bagged-on San Fernando Valley in Encino, California: the cradle of suburbia, skate culture and, most ignominiously, the porn industry. I was raised in a homogenously white, Jewish, upper-Middle-Class community, but my mother has always been a Latino-phile who insisted we learn Spanish at an early age. She also indoctrinated us into her love of Mexican culture by sending us to live with a family in Puebla, Mexico during the Summer of ’87. (Big Moment#1 for this gringo with Latinos)
By the time high school came around, I refused my parents’ invitation to attend their favorite local private school, and urged them to let me attend the public school — Birmingham High (“Go Patriots.”) Anyhow, it was during these years that I got my first glimpse of how the presence of US Hispanics was shifting like the tectonic plates that we sit on out West. 65% of students at my high school were Latinos — despite differing local demographics — on account of the LAUSD busing system. For me, this began a broader cultural understanding of Latinos. (Big Moment#2 for this gringo with Latinos)
I attended UCSB for college, but took a year abroad in Barcelona, Spain. This was quite a departure for me in my experience with the culture of Spanish-speakers given the hyper-specifically defined differences between Spaniards and Latinos around the world. My own Spanish dialect was distinctly Mexican-tinged, and boy did the folks in cosmopolitan Barcelona look down upon my way of speaking. This year was a time for me to learn how to speak fluent Spanish, to dream in Spanish, and to assimilate fully into another culture. (Big Moment#3 for this gringo with Latinos)
Living abroad profoundly changed my life by expanding my mind, imbuing me with worldliness, altering my diet, and learning that there exists a mighty world outside of our American bubble. However, it didn’t take me long to run right back into that bubble, and embrace the business that exports our culture worldwide.
Though my family had no connection to Hollywood, the pull of showbiz was far too strong to deny. Upon leaving college, and having graduated with a BA in History, the choice was pretty simple:
A) Go teach history; or
B) Chase Hollywood starlets and tell stories for a living
No brainer! Hooray for Hollywood! Full disclosure: I met my gorgeous wife one year into my working life and never looked back, so the whole chasing starlets thing never happened. The storytelling part absolutely did, and I have been a Film & TV Producer and Executive in Hollywood for most of my 20-year career in Media.
In the early years, my focus was on producing films, but then “The Sopranos” ushered in the Golden Age of Television, and that business drew the lion’s share of my attention.
However, around 2006 I caught the Digital bug. I learned lessons about how NOT to build a digital strategy through commendable-but-failed attempts at companies I worked for. In that era, the famous Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman’s evergreen axiom that “nobody knows anything” absolutely held true. We were all learning the lessons of how to fuse Premium Content, great storytelling and the (always shortening) short-form.
After producing for Sony one of Crackle.com’s first big celebrity-driven comedy shows, I moved on to a partnership with Dr. Dre, where my experience with diverse writers, artists, and creators deepened. I worked with just about every “diversity” player in Hollywood, and one of the resounding lessons was that ethnic populations are ALWAYS de-valued when it comes to their consideration as consumers.
My sense was, and still is, that Latinos are the MOST underserved market specifically because of their mind-blowing demographics. We’ve all heard the numbers about Latinos being the fastest growing ethnic demographic in the US, and being on-pace to become the flat out majority in this generation. I acted upon that intel by starting a partnership with arguably the most famous Latina movie star in the world: Zoe Saldana. (Big Moment#4 for this gringo with Latinos)
We created TV and film projects with Latino-themes, but again the battle was straight uphill (we’re talking Himalayan peaks!) to get attention in the marketplace. We sold great projects, but we often either had to sneak our Latino characters in through the side door, or abandon that angle entirely.
So, what do you do when you want to serve a hungry audience of Latino eyeballs, but the gate-keepers at Hollywood’s film studios and TV networks have shunned? In my case, you get lucky and receive a phone call from your brilliant friend and former colleague who is creating a business that has practical solutions for the above-mentioned problem.
This leads me to my current job, and the apotheosis of the tale of what some white kid knows about serving culture to the Latino market. I have taken a position as the General Manager at Pongalo, which is positioned brilliantly to find that underserved Latino market with content across all digital platforms, with an emphasis on films and TV shows in Spanish.
In short, Pongalo took 50,000 hours of Spanish-language content (Movies/TV shows/Novelas), and turned themselves into the largest film and TV player for Latinos on YouTube — surpassing 2 billion views last year. This network is an affirmation that rabid hunger exists for Spanish-language content amongst US Hispanics, and content consumers worldwide. It has given our company a direct dialogue with our audience, which is comprised of predominantly 18–34 Millennials who are virtually impossible to reach through traditional means.
The next exciting phase for the company is to launch a streaming platform — a Netflix-like subscription-based service offering the best of our content across all mobile devices and the web. Some people call this an over-the-top, or OTT, platform because it goes “over the top” of your cable box. Millions of Latinos will be able to find the content they want, when they want it, and where they want it.
For me, well, I have found a way to make my mother proud, and to brush up on my no-longer-fluent Spanish, while representing for my fellow ethnically-agnostic, White Jewish boys from the Valley.
STAY TUNED FOR MY NEXT PIECE ABOUT THE CULTURE CLASH BETWEEN SILICON VALLEY AND HOLLYWOOD ALONG MY PATH INTO LATINO DIGITAL MEDIA.