Network adds key partners, executive heft with Scott Sassa hire
The El Rey Network, the cable startup from Robert Rodriguez and John Fogelman’s FactoryMade Ventures, is speeding toward its soft launch in December, bolstered by a strategic partnership with Spanish-lingo giant Univision Communications.
Univision has made an equity investment in the English-lingo cabler that is aimed at young adult auds. Much of the programming will have appeal to Latinos, but the goal is to target a broader urban demographic with a mix of reality, scripted and animated skeins, movies, music and sports programming — including the colorful wrestlers of Mexico’s Lucha Libre league. Univision will handle the back-office operations, sales and distribution of the network.
The veteran TV exec suddenly became available in March when he was forced to step down from his Hearst post after being entangled in an extortion scandal that came to the attention of Hearst’s higher-ups. Tabloid headlines or not, Sassa brings exec heft to the venture and raises its profi le in media circles. In pouncing on the opportunity to bring in Sassa, El Rey’s existing CEO Antoinette Zel shifted to CMO duties.
El Rey was born in early 2012 with the advantage of having secured a carriage commitment from Comcast Corp. — thanks to the cable giant’s pledge to distribute 10 independently owned networks within a few years of its NBCUniversal takeover. Still, the odds are stacked against an indie cabler gaining a foothold in a market dominated by the major showbiz congloms.
But Rodriguez and FactoryMade have been savvy about lining up partners that bring buzz and essential resources to the operation. El Rey will need all the support it can get, as the Latino TV marketplace is becoming highly competitive, in both languages. Jennifer Lopez has invested El Rey’s more established English-lingo rival NuvoTV. MundoFox, the nearly one-year-old startup network backed by Fox and Colombia’s RCN, is aiming for younger second-generation Latinos, albeit with Spanish-lingo programming, as does NBCUniversal’s Mun2. ABC News and Univision are also partnered in a news network, Fusion, aimed at Latino millennials, and set to bow later this year.
Among the fi rst fruits of the Univision deal for El Rey will be a TV series spinoff of “From Dusk Till Dawn,” the horror franchise from Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. In keeping with his reputation for prolific output, Rodriguez intends to write and direct the series. In addition, K/O Paper Products, the television and film shingle run by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, will produce an action-adventure drama for El Rey, with development starting at the end of June.
Both shows are being developed as part of the network’s co-financing pact with Reliance-backed television studio Georgeville Television and will be produced at Rodriguez’s 26-acre studio facility in Austin, Texas. Georgeville will co-produce scripted programming for El Rey in a $250 million deal announced in February. The three-year pact calls for the production of at least six skeins.
The fl urry of programming news and partnerships also lays good groundwork for the biggest hurdle El Rey still has to clear: securing additional distribution agreements with cable, satellite and telco distribs. Those conversations are under way, and will be greatly aided by the leverage that Univision brings to the negotiating table.
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