Back in the mid-1990s when Beatriz Acevedo was producing a shoe-string budget, E!-like TV show in Mexico, she interviewed an up-and-coming director named Robert Rodriguez. After chatting about his career, Rodriguez (off camera) offered Acevedo, who had just won three Emmy’s, some advice: sell her car and use the cash to make TV pilots. Then take them to the U.S.–specifically to NATPE, the annual confab of TV execs. Lest she forget, Rodriguez jotted down “NATPE” on a napkin.
Acevedo heeded Rodriguez’s advice to a T–she even sold her car–and wound up selling shows to Discovery and USA.
“It’s such a cluttered market, I don’t even know how that happened,” Acevedo said recently, marveling at her own Cinderella story.
Then again, the timing was ideal for Latino producers like Acevedo, given that American cable networks were starting to launch channels in Spanish-speaking territories and needed programming.
Two decades later, Acevedo finds herself in another opportunity-rich time, only now it’s not because of cable, but YouTube, today’s version of all-you-can-dream-to-watch viewing. And yet again she finds herself filling a need, this time for Latino digital content that goes beyond the telenovela and game show genres that dominate TV. To this end, in 2012 she and her husband and business partner Doug Greiff, and Roy Burstin launched the MiTú Network, which in less than two years has become the biggest Latino MCN (multi-channel network) on YouTube with over 400 million views a month and almost 40 million subscribers. The media company has attracted money from traditional entertainment–Peter Chernin’s Chernin Group has a stake, as does Advancit Capital, the VC firm founded by Shari Redstone and Jason Ostheimer. (On the non-traditional side, Allen DeBevoise, the founder of Machinima, is an investor). And last month, L.A.-based Upfront Ventures sank $10 million into the company, which is building a production facility in Mexico City and expanding its team.
Acevedo describes the MiTú sensibility as “very Scripps Networks,” referring to the owner of cable properties like the Food Network and the Travel Channel. There are cooking shows, DIY fashion videos, and home decor tutorials, in Spanish, Portugues, and English (though mostly Spanish). Recently, MiTú Macho launched, which is a kind of Latino Spike TV with comedy shows, tech gadget haul videos, and the perhaps inevitable “Shit Mexicans Say When They’re Drunk” series.
All of this Avecedo says is filling “a big content gap, both in English and in Spanish” for Latinos.
“In English, when we’re represented in media, it’s very stereotypical. There’s the overly sexualized character, the cheap labor people, or, best case, we’re comic relief. We never think, ‘Oh, here I am represented as who I am–a thriving, bilingual, successful Latino.
“And in Spanish, there’s just a lack of genres. They’re just so focused on the genres that work so well–soaps, game shows, news–that nobody thinks that Latinos would be interested in food or in fashion or in sketch comedy.”
MiTú is also taking advantage of Latinos’ interest in technology, she says. “Latinos are huge consumers and early adopters of tech. So we over-index on watching more videos online, watching more videos on our tablets, and playing more video games. So there’s this big group craving this kind of (digital) content.”
And then there are simply the numbers. “There are just a lot of us,” Acevedo says, referring to the exploding Latino demographic.
MiTú’s sphere of influence goes beyond just Spanish-speakers however. In its ongoing quest for Latino talent, Hollywood has taken to view the channel as an incubator for TV-friendly personalities (that conveniently come with analytics data and a built-in audience). Guzzi, a home chef who is a Latino cross between Guy Fieri and Emeril Lagasse, was recently signed by UTA (though he has not given up his day job; Acevedo says he still works as a janitor in San Diego). Maiah Ocando, a bubbly fashionista, landed an overall talent deal with ABC, prompting her to move to LA from Venezuela. And HLN bought a pilot for a TV adaptation of El Show with Chuey Martinez, the flagship series of MiTú Macho.
Meanwhile, major brands like Procter & Gamble, Nestle, and Honda have all bought in, meaning that MiTú creators are actually making money from rev-share deals.
So how does this feel different from producing that Mexican entertainment show way back when? Not much, says Avecedo. “We were producing that for about $500. It was very alternative to what broadcast was doing and for no money. Just two guys and myself.
“I would say that was almost my first YouTube experiment, even though YouTube didn’t exist.”