Representing Hispanics, On Screen and Off

Why This Matters: Latino-targeted programmers are making a strong effort to reach out to the emerging Hispanic audience.

With Hispanic Heritage Month in full swing, B&C spoke with two network executives on the front lines of providing original content and resources targeted to English-speaking Hispanic viewers. In separate interviews, Fuse president and CEO Michael Schwimmer and El Rey Network founder and CEO Robert Rodriguez outline their respective Hispanic Heritage Month efforts both on-screen and within the community, as well as provide their thoughts on the television industry’s efforts to reach and serve an emerging Hispanic marketplace. Fuse president and CEO Michael Schwimmer

What is Fuse planning for Hispanic Heritage Month?

This is one of the biggest and most meaningful Hispanic Heritage Month efforts that the network has participated in. We kicked off the month by partnering with Voto Latino for a campaign during National Voter Registration Day that featured PSAs to remind people to register and to get out and vote. We worked with Voto Latino during the 2008 and 2016 presidential elections by sending young journalists to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. We then co-sponsored a [Sept. 27] event in D.C. with UnidosUS and the NAACP to rally behind the issue of border separation, immigration and DACA. As part of the event, we screened our award-winning film called Indivisible for policy makers, legislators and community activists.

How important is the get-out-the-vote movement to the Hispanic community as we move closer to the midterm elections?

If you want change, you have to get out and vote. It’s not enough to march — although marching is important — and it’s not enough to write your congressman; you have to get out and vote. There are many people in this country who are not registered to vote, and there are lot who are registered to vote and don’t. There are lot of organizations dedicated to registering people to vote. Our angle is making sure that Hispanics are uniquely aware of their opportunities to participate in our democratic process, and that’s where it all starts.

What new content should we expect to see from Fuse going forward?

We’re bringing back the ALMA Awards to television — they’ve been off for three years, and that’s an awards show that’s near and dear to all Latinos in the U.S. because it celebrates the accomplishments of Hispanic artists and impactful change-makers. We’re also launching Fuse Films, which will give a voice to young creators of color who are making stories around issues that resonate with people of color in America.

What role does Fuse play in providing Hispanic images and themed stories in front of the camera, both during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond?

The interesting thing is that a large part of our audience is not Latino, and I think our [content] reaches both our Hispanic and non-Hispanic audience at a time when we know what’s going on within the public discourse, and the kinds of things that are happening relative to [people of color]. It’s never been more important to provide positive images and access to content that might not otherwise be available on other networks. That’s the role we play.

El Rey Network founder and CEO Robert Rodriguez

How is El Rey Network celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month?

This year marks the network’s fifth anniversary, so we wanted to celebrate by capturing a series of videos that featured friends and family talking about the network’s importance to the community as well as inviting our viewers to make their own videos. We kicked off the campaign with an evergreen video that’s running on linear and social celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month featuring some of our allies in the advocacy world, like [National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts chairman and co-founder] Felix Sanchez; CNN contributor Maria Cardona; [Hispanic Heritage Foundation president and CEO] Antonio Terrio and congressman Tony Cardenas. We’re also encouraging viewers to make their own homemade videos to celebrate our diverse programming and have them create promotional videos around the properties that resonate most with them. It’s just another way for fans to see themselves on TV — that was the sole reason we created El Rey Network.

Is the network where you envisioned it would be after five years?

It is. The whole network was born out of a deal with Comcast — they were the only ones required to carry it. So the fact that we’re in 45 million homes is a big deal. That’s a pretty fast-growing network, and it shows that there was a need for this type of network. So we’re very happy with where it is and we’ll keep expanding from there. In 2019, we’re going to be doubling our programming, so we’re going to do more originals like Lucha Underground and Man at Arms, which overperform with diverse audiences. Usually a lot of networks don’t do original programming for their first 20 years and we were doing it from year one. There’s just a lack of library content that features Latinos in prominent roles, so we’ve always strove to create our own originals featuring Latinos in front of the camera.

In general, has the television industry done a better job in representing Latinos both in front of and behind the camera since El Rey was launched?

That’s actually our mission, to build on the numbers. I look at the charts that say that Latino producers and directors behind the camera are 2% or maybe 4% at the top, when [Hispanics] represent 17% of the country. On El Rey, when we create new shows like, for instance, the From Dusk Till Dawn TV series, in which nine out of 10 of the directors were Hispanic, with mostly Hispanic writers — I think the greatest change we’re going to see in the industry is definitely going to be led by our own network.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.