'East Los High' builds on Hulu's success among Hispanic audiences

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Image Credit: Todd Williamson/Hulu

You can’t set your DVR for East Los High, one of the most popular shows among Hispanic youth. But you can stream the show online on your laptop or tablet (or even TV, if you insist)—now in its second season on Hulu—as a nod to not only the changing nature of television, but as a telling insight on how a streaming content company has managed to build a sizeable audience among one of television’s most coveted demographics: Latino 20-somethings.

Since Hulu debuted East Los High last summer, the English-language show—about Latino teens engrossed in everyday drama at their East Los Angeles high school—has become one of the platform’s top 10 shows, helping draw one million unique visitors monthly to its Hulu Latino page since 2013. A sexy teen series in the tradition of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, the show is presented in the serialized telenovela format long popular among Hispanic audiences. Though for the record, the cast of Latino newcomers faces all-American issues that no novela would, touching on sexuality, teen pregnancy, school, and drugs—wrapped up in time-honored soap-opera storylines revolving around cheating boyfriends, love triangles, dance competitions, absent parents, and loyalties that seem to change as quickly as the bell sounding the start of the next period.

“It was just very, very different from all the other shows I’ve ever seen. It was a regular American setting and an American high school, but it had some words and situations that definitely had a fun Latino twist,” says Natalie Madrigal, 21, who binge-watched the first season of the show on her laptop with her three college roommates.

That’s thanks to East Los High  co-creator, director and head writer Carlos Portugal, who has helped develop an issue-driven, nail-biting series for an audience he says is underrepresented in mainstream television.

“I think there’s so many beautiful stories about Latinos that aren’t being told,” says Portugal, who has also written for Tyler Perry’s House of Pain series. He now employs a writing team composed entirely of Latinas, an opportunity he says allows him to “create a series that feels real because we’re telling the stories of our cousins, our sisters, and our girlfriends.”

Executive producer Katie Elmore Mota—who previously worked at the Population Media Center, a non-profit organization that uses scripted, issue-based drama to educate audiences in Latin America and Africa—approached Portugal four years ago with a plan: to create the first-ever show focused on Hispanic youth in Los Angeles with the goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates.

“The more research we did, the more convinced we were that there were rich stories that were just waiting to be told for an audience that’s craving great content,” says Mota.”This was a way to give Latino youth information about choices and a platform for discussion about the issues they’re dealing with in their own lives.”

It’s not the stuff that usual made-for-TV dramas are made of. Season one of East Los High—approximately 24 30-minute episodes—was independently produced, shot, and edited before being shopped around to networks and ultimately picked up by Hulu.

“Hulu understands how youth are consuming entertainment, and furthermore, they understand how we’re trying to create programming around social issues,” Mota explains. She also notes that Hulu’s multi-platform strategy is a “natural” fit for Hispanic youth, who tend to be more tech-savvy than their non-Hispanic peers.

As the first English-language offering on Hulu’s Latino page (which has featured Spanish content with partners like MundoFox and programming behemoth Univision since 2011), East Los High draws a core demo of women ages 18-24; part of the U.S. Hispanic audience that currently has a purchasing power that tops $1 trillion.With a second season that premieres July 9, East Los High is an asset that Craig Erwich, head of content at Hulu, counts as a valuable part of the company’s strategy in competing with subscription-based streaming services like Netflix in reaching acculturated, English-speaking Latinos.

“There’s a big young Hispanic audience and they can now be found or reached through one singular platform, which is Hulu,” says Erwich. Another advantage? “I think the advertisers are a fan of what we’re trying to do,” he adds, laughing.

Now, Hulu is following up on its success among Latino millennials with the addition of reality series Los Cowboys—which will follow Mexican-American cowboys as their pursue their passion for charrería, the Mexican rodeo—scheduled to debut this fall.

“Latinos aren’t going to watch just anything with a label on it. It’s an underserved audience. There’s definitely a strong business opportunity there,” says Erwich of the newest addition to Hulu’s exclusive Latino programming. “It’s to our advantage to become a friendly place for people creating shows that speak to that audience.”

But while an entire season of East Los High—which Portugal promises will take on bullying, domestic abuse, and the revelation that a popular character is gay—is now available, it’ll have to wait until Madrigal catches up on her other shows du jour.

“I just started Scandal from the beginning,” the recent college graduate says. “So I have to finish that first.”

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