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On July 15th, fans got what they had been waiting for – season four of East Los High was now available on Hulu. To date, the program has received no fewer than 5 Emmy nominations and is one of the top performing shows on Hulu. The popularity of East Los High results in impressive numbers and the production of more seasons, but the real success of East Los High happens off the screen, and newly published research in the American Journal of Public Health shows that the entertainment industry in the United States can, in fact, improve issues like teenage sexual and reproductive health if implemented correctly.
Researchers Helen Wang, from the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, and Arvind Singhal, from The University of Texas at El Paso, revealed that the impact of East Los High began in 2013 with the very first season of broadcast. That summer, East Los High launched as a Hulu Original Series, and hundreds of thousands of viewers visited the show’s website to access episodes, bonus material, and resources. It was the first foray into US TV projects for Population Media Center, a nonprofit leader in entertainment-education around the world – and it was a hit.
“We were encouraged and supported by a funder to expand into TV production,” says Bill Ryerson, President and Founder of Population Media Center. “We work mostly in developing countries but this funding allowed us to conduct formative research to assess the greatest need in the US, to meet with creative personnel and distribution partners, and to make sure we were positioned to reach target audiences with great characters, stories, and meaningful messages.”
Formative research revealed that in 2007 more than 50 percent of Latinas in the US were becoming pregnant before age 20, a statistic PMC wanted to help change. After identifying the social issues that would be included within the context of the story, it was time to apply PMC’s drama strategy in the hopes of making a difference. Little did the team know that their work would result in statistics like StayTeen.org’s website traffic doubling on the day East Los High launched and 22 percent of Planned Parenthood’s total widget visits during the first season being accessed through the East Los High website.
Ryerson and Katie Elmore Mota, who was PMC’s Vice President for Communications and Programs at the time and now Co-President and Executive Producer at Wise Entertainment, began constructing the team that would write and produce East Los High. The results have been astounding. Researchers Wang and Singhal write in the American Journal of Public Health that “Viewers consistently demonstrated high levels of narrative engagement, carefully attended to the show, understood the nuances of the characters and their stories, felt immersed in the story world of East Los High, related content to their real-life experiences, actively reflected on the plotlines, and were emotionally engaged. Furthermore, among the target audience group of Latina girls and women, East Los High spurred interpersonal discussions. They talked to their friends, siblings, parents, and relatives about East Los High face to face and via social media, text messages, and telephone calls.” Season four promises continued engagement – and with engagement comes meaningful social change.
All episodes of East Los High are now streaming, only on Hulu. For more information, go to www.eastloshigh.com.