Blacktag, a new streaming service, has big plans

When Ousman Sahko Sow and Akin Adebowale founded Blacktag in 2019, they sought to answer two questions: What would a streaming platform look like for a digitally savvy black audience? And how could it become a destination for black talent?

It turns out that both answers have a lot to do with salary.

“What We’re Building examines the exploitative nature of monetizing black creativity and instead finds a way to put it back in the hands of creators in a sustainable way by paying them what they’re worth,” said Mr. Sow, 30. . in a recent interview.

Over the past few years, black designers have made several efforts to highlight the inequalities they face when it comes to finding opportunities and getting paid for their work. Brands spent some $ 10 billion on influencer marketing in 2020, according to SignalFire, a venture capital firm that tracks the designer economy. But white designers make a lot more money than their black counterparts, who tend to receive a lot less credit.

With that in mind, Blacktag, which made its official debut last week, aims to create a product in the mold of YouTube and Netflix with a mix of produced shows that cover music, travel and more; licensed short films; and original videos made by creators. The goal is to become a destination for brands looking to work with black designers and attract black audiences.

Some of the content in the app can be viewed at any time, on demand, but much of it is only available live – a throwback to the era of dating viewing. “It’s like the good old days when we would get together to watch something that airs at 9pm,” said Mr Adebowale, 33. “We want a common experience and an antidote to the endless flow of content. The founders said there would never be an algorithm deciding what users see.

To entice creators, the company plans to share intellectual property rights to series and specials with them, hoping to license their videos to outlets like Netflix and HBO. (This is unusual, as most social media and entertainment companies own 100% of creator content.) Founders are also exploring paid subscriptions; creators would benefit from reduced income based on their audience and engagement.

The company’s goal is to get a mix of original shows, licensed films and creator content, not just in the United States, but across the black diaspora, whether they are in London, Nigeria. or in Brazil.

Prior to creating the app, Mr. Sow was a commercial developer whose clients included Adidas, Spotify, and Google. Mr. Adebowale was Creative Director, Composer and Software Engineer; he has worked with Drake, Kanye West and Jill Scott, and he considers Bob Johnson, one of the founders of BET, to be a mentor. Both were born in West Africa and raised in the Atlanta area, although they only met in 2019, when they were introduced by mutual friends.

Currently, Blacktag has 13 employees who work at the company’s headquarters in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, and 10 original shows, as well as a handful of short films. The first week’s lineup includes originals like “Black Atlas,” a weekly travel series that uses local filmmakers to document black life around the world.

Other shows include “MGMT,” a documentary mini-series that features veterans of the black music industry; one episode features Sean Famoso of LVRN Records. And later this month, Blacktag will present “Superimpose,” a musical performance series (the first featuring rapper Kari Faux) and “What’s Your Sign?, “ a celebrity talk show where guests including designer Brandon Blackwood discuss astrological birth cards and tarot cards.

Video content can be as short as a minute, which is roughly the length of “Hot Intermissions”, comical parodies of the traditional commercial break, or as long as feature films. The Blacktag team hopes to expand up to 24 hours of programming.

The app will also offer e-commerce: if, for example, a pair of sneakers worn by an artist catches your eye, you can tap the cart and be directed to Nike’s site to purchase them. Other plans include folding black-owned brands when it comes to topics on the show, whether it’s fashion, home decor, or even sex toys.

Commentary, another feature, will be limited to certain live events. Mr Sow and Mr Adebowale agree that this part will be tricky: “Blacktag is more of an entertainment platform than a social network, but we realize that users want to share an experience so that you can block users and report abuse. messages to reduce toxic behavior, ”says Adebowale.

Planning for their global audience comes with some challenges. Racier shows like “African Sex Stories,” an unfiltered discussion of sex and relationships slated for later this year, may air during what Mr. Adebowale and Mr. Sow are calling “Demon Hour,” which is late at night in New York and early morning in Europe.

“African Sex Stories” will feature a rotating host cast, with the first five episodes featuring Simi Moonlight, a wellness and style content creator. Blacktag plans to pair her up with other non-creative hosts, all of whom have been spotted via video submissions. Topics for discussion will range from consent to the psychology and language of sex.

The team is also quick to point out the thorny issues, despite the risk of seeing its application banned in countries that might disapprove. “There are some parts of West Africa where it is forbidden to be gay, but the people who live in these communities who feel oppressed need something to help them continue,” Mr. Sow.

The bigger question comes down to monetization.

Quibi, which also placed a big bet on mobile content first, ultimately failed. But Mr Sow and Mr Adebowale were quick to point out the differences: Quibi, they wrote in an email, “was designed for an over-served population with huge budgets devoted to overproduction which has restarted old and familiar content. We wish we could make costly mistakes like our non-Black counterparts, but the vision that Blacktag described addresses a need that the community has expressed is overdue and necessary. “

Blacktag was funded in part by a $ 3.75 million investment from Connect Ventures, a partnership between Creative Artists Agency and New Enterprise Associates, a global venture capital firm. Blacktag also has leading investors and advisers, including Issa Rae and Common. These relationships gave credibility to the fledgling company.

“We’re looking to partner with mission-driven founders, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen with Blacktag – two accomplished and innovative entrepreneurs,” said Michael Blank, head of consumer investment at CAA. “Their vision will have a huge impact in creating opportunities for black artists and designers to monetize their work while providing artistic freedom. ”

Comparisons to black media companies like BET and Revolt TV are inevitable, but Mr. Adebowale believes in collaboration, not competition.

“How can we amplify each other? ” he said. “There are so few in this space that it’s actually great for all of us to be in this industry. We want to be the standard for black public, art and alternative artists around the world and make a lasting contribution to this community. “

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