By Rachel Abrams
On the set of “Beauty Coach,” a show on Latino digital streaming network MiTu, one may hear a surprising thing: English.
“Beauty Coach,” one of several original productions on the multi-channel network, features a Latina stylist who gives makeup and hair lessons to different women each week. But unlike most of the programming on the U.S.’ top two Hispanic networks, Univision and Telemundo, “Beauty Coach” alternates between Spanish and English.
“Everything is Latina because she is Latina,” said Beatriz Acevedo, one of MiTu’s three founders. Acevedo recalled an incident during her time as a consultant for Discovery’s Spanish programming when TV executives were surprised to learn that Giada De Laurentiis’ cooking show ranked highly among Hispanic audiences. “People think if it’s Latino you have to have the mariachis, the sombreros, (but) because it’s Latina, we never do it over-the-top … it’s just real. That’s what connects with people.”
Founded last year by Acevedo, her husband Doug Greiff and Roy Burstin, MiTu is trying to capture a Hispanic audience that isn’t tuning into broadcast television. Like other YouTube multi-channel networks, MiTu draws from an inexpensive talent pool of non-career entertainers: Chef James Carson, for example, turned his restaurant experience into online cooking classes. The real challenge for MiTu, like many MCNs, will be whether the company can gain enough scale to compete with traditional media.
“The whole goal of MiTu was to build a next-generation media company,” Greiff said over a taco lunch in Baja, Mexico last month, before he and Acevedo led a tour of MiTu’s Baja-based production facilities. Baja works for MiTu on a number of levels: It’s close enough to the border so that employees can go back and forth in a day if necessary, it still has a large pool of talent that came when James Cameron built a studio in the area for 1997′s “Titanic,” and nearly everything is cheaper in Mexico.
It costs MiTu about $1,000 per minute to produce its original shows, which usually run about four to eight minutes, according to Greiff. MiTu also gives a platform for existing talent to showcase programming across its network. Its original programming talent, like Carson, typically get a fee and at least a 50/50 revenue split after MiTu recoups its production costs.
Like all multi-channel networks, that revenue comes from a variety of ads: 30-second spots that play before each video, banner advertisements and “Sponsored by” credits various companies will buy.
Those companies care about the eyeballs watching MiTu – roughly 100 million views per month and more than 10.5 million subscribers. That means that MiTu’s programming has attracted a comparable viewership for shows which are often much cheaper to produce than television or films.
Those numbers have already attracted investment from traditional media. In December, Peter Chernin led a $3 million investment that gave his investor group – which included Shari Redstone’s venture capital firm Advancit Capital – about 25% of the company.
The challenge for MCNs is whether the eyeballs it attracts are also enough to lure advertisers, too, away from more traditional media – especially without premium talent. And retaining the talent MCNs already have can also prove challenging.
While inexpensive “stars” have become among the biggest assets to MCNS like MiTu, Maker Studios and others, they can also pose major challenges. Even YouTube stars with bona fide followings who come into the MCN fold can be unsophisticated dealmakers, and often have no professional representation. Others, like Maker’s Ray William Johnson, clash with their respective companies over the murky world of intellectual property rights online.
Carson, who had just wrapped production on “Cocina,” said he wasn’t sure how he’d end up getting paid for the show.
“He’s got a contract,” Greiff said when asked about why. “He just hasn’t read it.”