The pitch meeting wasn’t going as planned.
John Fogelman and Cristina Patwa, founders of entertainment business incubator FactoryMade Ventures, wanted movie director Robert Rodriguez to help them create an English-language cable network for Latinos.
At an evening sit-down in mid-2011, in the dimly lighted bar in the Four Seasons Hotel in L.A., the two talent agency veterans tried to dazzle the “Spy Kids” and “El Mariachi”filmmaker with data on the size of the growing Latino market and the dearth of TV programming for Latinos who speak English.
Rodriguez, a San Antonio native of Mexican descent, listened silently for a long time, his eyes obscured underneath his signature cowboy hat.
Fogelman and Patwa had no sense of whether the director liked what he was hearing. Then he suddenly interrupted them — to say “yes.”
“My hand literally went up,” Rodriguez recalled. “I said, ‘I have five kids and there is nothing they can look at and say, “That’s me.” They are invisible on television.'”
The meeting marked the beginning of El Rey Network, which debuts in December as a cable channel carried by Comcast Corp. with backing from Univision Communications Inc.By early next year, El Rey will reach more than 20 million homes.
It’s the brainchild of two partners who at first may seem unlikely co-chief executives. Fogelman, 48, is contemplative, at times becoming emotional during an interview. Patwa, 32, is gregarious and energetic, quick to trot out industry jargon.
For Fogelman, El Rey is both vocation and avocation.
“We have so little time in this world that we need to focus on things that have some form of special relevance,” said Fogelman, who spent nearly two decades as an agent at William Morris Agency and successor company William Morris Endeavor — representing clients including Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams — before leaving in March 2011 to start FactoryMade.
FactoryMade employs 10 people and is headquartered in sleek Santa Monica offices near those of Bay and Abrams — the latter of whom gave the company its name and designed its logo. The start-up began with a client roster that included Hasbro Inc. and Spanish telecommunication giant Telefonica.
For the future, FactoryMade envisions starting new media and entertainment businesses by harnessing existing intellectual property and creating some of its own.
At the moment, the company’s focus is squarely on El Rey, which the network’s stakeholders believe could be transformational for Latino audiences. Statistics show El Rey is targeting a rapidly growing market.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, the country’s Hispanic population increased 43% over the previous decade to 50.5 million. And in 2010, Hispanics accounted for 23% of people under the age of 18.
But Patwa said that even though the group is increasingly English-speaking, only 3.8% of the lead roles on network scripted television are filled by Latinos.
“That’s insane for a population base that will end up being a third of the country,” said Patwa, who began working with Fogelman at William Morris Agency in 2008.
El Rey’s content will be largely aimed at the 18-34 age demographic and produced by known Hollywood players. Rodriguez, for example, is writing and directing a television series for the network based on his “From Dusk Till Dawn” action-horror film.
Screenwriter Roberto Orci (“Star Trek Into Darkness“) is penning an action series centered on a Latino James Bond-like figure. FactoryMade also is developing programming centered on lucha libre professional wrestling, which is enormously popular in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. The company has a deal to launch a U.S. wrestling league.
Rodriguez is chairman and chief executive of the new network. But Fogelman and Patwa are the ones making key business decisions, such as hiring Scott Sassa to serve as El Rey’s vice chairman.
Sassa, a longtime TV executive, departed his post as president of Hearst Entertainment & Syndication in March after published reports concerning his entanglement with a stripper.
Hiring Sassa wasn’t the first time Fogelman and Patwa trusted their instincts. Their departure from William Morris Endeavor — which was formed by the merger of William Morris Agency and Endeavor in April 2009 — was a surprise. Fogelman was an architect of the historic merger and held a seat on the new agency’s board. He was trading a lucrative and secure position for the unknown.
“It was a courageous move,” said David Zaslav, chief executive of Discovery Communications Inc., who worked with Fogelman when he was an agent. “Not everyone gets a second act, but John is on his way to have a very satisfying one that is maybe closer to what he wants do with his life.”
Fogelman got to know Patwa about five years ago while courting her to leave Disney/ABC Television Group, where she was director of business development. At the time, Fogelman was assembling a team at William Morris Agency to help create a TV network for client Hasbro, and persuaded Patwa to join his group.
The Hub Network, a partnership of the toy maker and Discovery, launched in 2010 and gave Fogelman and Patwa a sense of what they could accomplish together.
After working on the Hub, Fogelman and Patwa turned their attention to client HSN Inc., spearheading its effort to launch HSN Arcade, the shopping company’s e-commerce platform. The service, which debuted in 2011, was Fogelman’s tipping point.
“After we created HSN Arcade, I wasn’t excited to put movies together anymore, or television shows, or trying to sign a client,” said Fogelman. “It was just too sexy, quite frankly, to go into this world of the unknown.”
El Rey has competition. Two other networks are also going after the Latino market with English-language content. Cable channel NuvoTV, which launched in 2004 as Si TV before rebranding, boasts 32 million subscribers and a creative partnership with Jennifer Lopez. Fusion, a news-centric channel started by Disney/ABC and Univision, debuts this fall.
Financial support from Univision is helping El Rey pursue its ambitious plans. In May, the powerhouse Spanish-language media company acquired a 5% stake in El Rey for $2.6 million, according to regulatory filings, and let El Rey borrow $72.4 million. Univision provides El Rey with operational support and is arranging distribution of the network with cable providers — which Fogelman and Patwa said could double El Rey’s reach within a year.
Randy Falco, chief executive of Univision, said El Rey’s success will come from its ability to go beyond a niche appeal.
“It will be done with a lens of inclusiveness that will go beyond Latinos,” Falco said. “I think that will be the special sauce.”