An upstart Spanish-language streamer is taking a big step into original content.
Canela Media will debut a daily entertainment news show, “¡Ponle Canela!,” on its streaming platform, Canela.TV, on Oct. 10. “Secretos De Villanas,” a reality series that puts some well-known telenovela actresses under one roof to reveal secrets about their lives and careers, will premiere on Oct. 20.
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In launching its own original content, Canela.TV is following in the footsteps of much larger and more mature streaming services like Netflix and Hulu that have historically drawn in audiences with licensed content in the hopes they’ll stick around to watch original series and movies.
The move brings Canela Media even further into a crowded streaming ecosystem. But founder Isabel Rafferty said the company finds its niche in an opportunity to better serve the Hispanic community in the U.S.
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“When I launched Canela there was all this talk about streaming wars, but all the services were focused on just one segment, the general market,” Rafferty said. “Some services might have a section for Latinos, but it was an afterthought, you had to scroll, scroll, scroll, and would be outdated.”
Canela.TV and its ad-supported streaming channels launched in 2020 — shortly after the coronavirus pandemic took hold and viewers began staying home more. The streaming service aims to provide a broad array of free content for Spanish-speaking communities. It currently hosts licensed content from various Spanish-speaking countries and outlets, including classic films, Hallmark movies and more recent competition TV series.
Rafferty said part of her inspiration for launching the site was the relative dearth of options for Spanish-speaking viewers who don’t have a pay-TV subscription or access to well-known networks like Telemundo and Univision.
Those networks and other Spanish-language content have captured some of the fastest-growing traditional TV audiences when it comes to average daily household viewership, according to data provider Samba TV.
“Demand for Spanish-language offerings and original programming has been surging,” said Dallas Lawrence, a senior vice president at Samba TV.
Initially, Rafferty sought out shows and movies from countries like Colombia and Argentina, because much of Hispanic content in the U.S. is based in Mexico. She wanted to showcase different representations of the Latino community, she said. The service has since added 20,000 hours of content.
Canela said its streaming platform, which is available in the U.S., Mexico and Colombia, has 23 million unique users. Similar free ad-supported streaming services like Paramount Global‘s Pluto and Fox‘s Tubi have said they have nearly 70 million and 51 million active users, respectively.
As its audience grew, Rafferty said, the move to adding original shows became key. Canela secured $32 million in a Series A funding round earlier this year and was able to get started on producing its own content. By the end of 2022, it will have 537 hours of original content.
“Streaming services, and just media in general, can be hugely capital-intensive businesses, and the way Isabel [Rafferty] went about this — starting with licensed content on a revenue-share basis to build a really huge library with diverse kinds of content — was incredibly smart,” said Susan Lyne of BBG Ventures, an early investor in Canela.
A still from Entre Fronteras, a Canela.TV original.
Rafferty said she thinks it’s important to have an ad-supported platform that offers content for free: Research showed much of the Hispanic community never had pay-TV subscriptions, and Canela wanted to make the content easily available to everyone, she said.
Advertising spots on the platform sell out monthly, she added, and top-tier consumer companies often buy spots. She plans to keep the ad-supported business model for as long as possible, if not forever, she said, even as the service faces growing competition.
Earlier this year Spanish-language news outlet Telemundo launched its own streaming brand, Tplus, as a hub on NBCUniversal’s Peacock platform. Tplus offers original content, which Peacock subscribers can access as part of the $4.99 ad-supported or $9.99 ad-free tiers. TelevisaUnivision similarly launched a free ad-supported streaming platform, called Vix, and in July began offering Vix+, a premium subscription service.
Major streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max, also offer libraries of Spanish-language content.
After the initial debut of Canela’s original programming, the company plans to add “Bocetos,” a young adult series that takes place in modern-day Mexico, and “Mi Vida,” a series that revolves around Latino celebrities and their journeys to fame. Those shows are expected later in October and November.
By December, the company will debut a stand-alone streaming service, Canela Kids, for its younger viewers, which will also feature exclusive and original content. Canela.TV has already started adding some children’s programs and says it has seen them become top-watched programming.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC, Telemundo and Peacock.