Pongalo wants Latinos to binge on Venezuela’s telenovelas

Hulu, meet your Latino cousin: Spanish-language digital entertainment company Latin Everywhere launched a new online video service dubbed Pongalo Tuesday that aims to target Spanish-speaking audiences in the United States with free telenovelas from Venezuela. One especially notable title: Juana la Virgen, the show that the CW hit Jane the Virgin is based on.

Pongalo is launching with 10,000 telenovelas episodes, which are available for free on the web as well as through the service’s iOS and Android apps. Much of the content stems from RCTV, Venezuela’s largest TV network, which happens to be owned by the family of Latin Everywhere CEO Jorge Granier. Shows will be Spanish-language-only at launch, but Pongalo wants to add English subtitles over time.

Pongalo wants to eventually also launch a paid service, but Latin Everywhere Chairmain Rich Hull told me Monday that it was important for the company to first have a free, ad-supported tier in place. “There (is) an extraordinary amount of advertising dollars flooding into the Hispanic digital media space right now, and brands are desperate for ways to connect with Hispanic consumers in the digital world,” he said via email.

Pongalo isn’t the only company aiming for Spanish-language consumers. The growing Latino market is also being targeted by big domestic players like DirecTV, which recently launched a Spanish-language streaming service called Yaveo, and Hulu, which has struck deals with Univision and others to carry telenovelas.

As part of Hulu’s partnership with Univision, it is carrying abbreviated versions of telenovelas that allow viewers to watch an entire season in just 12 episodes, as opposed to the dozens or even hundreds of episodes that make up the typical season of a telenovela. Pongalo’s Hull objected to this approach when I quizzed him about it:

“Shorter, edited versions of telenovelas is not something we’ll be doing. TV creators create their shows in a particular way and we don’t want to mess with their genius. If something is going to be shorter, then it should be created that way from the beginning. We think you have to respect digital audiences in a way that plays by the rules of the medium and doesn’t just see digital as a place where you can cut down a TV episode, movie or commercial and have it feel organic. Digital audiences know the difference. “

He added that the number of episodes won’t stop viewers from tuning in:

“People who watch novelas are extremely passionate about them. So, if they’re going to watch 5 episodes of a novela, they’re going to watch all 150.”