Friday, May 20 2022

John Skipper’s Meadowlark Media is set to announce a strategic partnership with Ocellated Media later today. The two companies are linking up to create Spanish-language audio and unscripted video programming for Latino sports fans living in the U.S. The former ESPN president explained the decision to pursue non-English programming comes from an understanding that “the content available does not mirror the proportion of the population.” Despite Latinos making up about 19% of the total population, a large portion of whom prefer to consume content in Spanish, relatively little sports programming—particularly in the way of non-live game content—is delivered in the language.

JWS’ Take: News of the formal tie-up between Meadowlark and Ocellated comes just days after the two companies announced a collaboration, along with Skydance Sports, to produce a documentary about the rivalry between the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team and the Mexican National Team. The film is expected to be released prior to the start of the 2022 World Cup.

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Good Neighbors will not be told from an American or a Mexican point of view. Current and former members of both teams are participating in the documentary, with each player interviewed in his first language. “We want it to play in both Columbus, Ohio, and Mexico City,” Skipper said. By making a series that appeals to both fan bases (as well as a global soccer audience), the Meadowlark/Ocellated/Skydance collective can broaden its audience and by proxy, increase the value of their project.

While Good Neighbors will feature a mix of English and Spanish, the bulk of future Meadowlark-Ocellated collaborations are likely to be done exclusively in Spanish. The overarching premise behind the partnership is that the sizable Latino audience in the U.S., which is also “the fastest growing and youngest cohort,” is underserved from a sports content perspective, Skipper said. The 2020 U.S. Census indicated the Hispanic population grew 23% between 2010 and 2020.

While the margin between Latinos who consume content in English and those who prefer it in Spanish is closing, as second- and third-generation Latinos increasingly seek out content in English, Skipper said overall, the demo “continues to prefer to watch sports in Spanish.” That may be due in part to the fact that the demo tends to watch sports as a family and will often defer to the preferences of their elders. Spanish is the dominant language in 82% of Hispanic soccer viewing households. By contrast, English is dominant in just 13%.

Historically speaking, Telemundo and Univision have dominated the Spanish-speaking U.S. television market (at least in terms of ratings) and produced the bulk of sports-related programming for the demo. But Meadowlark and Ocellated aren’t trying to unseat those giants. They are content providers without their own platforms who see the establishment as possible buyers, not as competitors.

For a long time, Telemundo and Univision were the only viable outlets for Spanish-language sports programming in the U.S. But over the last two decades, most of the major sports media outlets have introduced Spanish-language offshoots (think: ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes). The recent emergence of global streaming platforms that have expanded into Spanish programming and several Spanish-language OTT players (including a new unified Televisa and Univision service, a combination of PrendeTV, VIX and Univision NOW, and Azteca TV) has also further expanded the buyer pool. Skipper said the current fractured media environment makes his company’s latest venture more viable than it would have been in the past.

Based in Mexico City, Ocellated brings a level of market expertise and authenticity to the partnership. It also gives the U.S.-based content studio the access it needs in Mexico (think: relationships with Mexican Football Association and Liga MX) to adequately serve the audience. Club Necaxa co-owner Sam Porter explained, “For Mexican Americans, the [Mexico] men’s national football team is easily the biggest and most widely supported sports institution there is. The team draws tremendous ratings and generates nine figures of revenue. [And] Liga MX is the biggest sports league in terms of interest, ratings, attendance and cultural significance.” It is worth noting that about two-thirds of Latinos in the U.S. are of Mexican descent.

Ocellated comes with in-house production capabilities, too (which Meadowlark does not have). And as Skipper pointed out, “Production services in Mexico are quite efficient and significantly less expensive, so on selective projects we’ll take advantage of that.”

That includes their newest podcast collaboration. As part of today’s announcement, the two companies will also introduce a new daily Spanish-language sports, entertainment, current events and sports betting podcast, to be hosted by Jorge “El Burro” Van Rankin (a well-known Mexican TV personality). The new pod is expected to complement Meadowlark co-founder Dan LeBatard’s daily show stylistically, with its bold, humorous tone, and from a network perspective. “We will not have to build [the audience] from scratch. We can use Dan’s show to help launch [the “El Burro” show] and [to] get it an audience. And over time we think we can develop a fairly significant audience in,” Skipper said. LeBatard, a Cuban-American, produces his show out of Latin-American centric Miami.

If Meadowlark and Ocellated can gain traction with the show among Mexican-Americans, Skipper said to look for the two companies to replicate the model and “build [out] some other Spanish-language podcasts around the world.” Insider Intelligence data suggests there are several emerging LATAM markets rapidly growing their podcast listener base (see: Brazil +19.8% in 2021, Argentina +17.8% in 2021 and Mexico +13.6% in 2021).

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