James DuBose is launching his new streaming service, In the Black Network. (Photos courtesy of James DuBose, DKC News)
The war of streaming services is only heating up, even amid the current SAG-AFTRA strike. Race plays a large part of the battle between streamers–all of the major streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Paramount+, Discovery+ and Hulu, are ran by white men. What of the Black streaming services, and where do they fit in with in the streaming landscape?
I recently had a conversation with James DuBose, former general manager of Fox Soul and founder of upcoming streaming service In the Black Network. He told me that where Black streaming services like his come into play is by giving quality content to an underserved market.
“…I really want to bring the feeling back…[of] when when we watched us on TV. We left inspired, we left with some type of emotion outside of just being entertained. And that’s why I call [the content] at In the Black, the content that we will continue to build, from original content as well as the library content, entertaining [and] inspirational because I want to bring back that feeling of pride, Black pride, a feeling of being prideful to be Black…and all that comes with that and to make the community feel like this is our network.”
The content for In the Black will be comprised of original content, as DuBose said, as well as from the library of content DuBose curated while at Fox Soul. He said that what he’s trying to accomplish is the feeling people had when BET first came on the scene and “how proud we all felt [that] a network was representing us on a larger scale.”
“If you look at non-Black outlets, they have a lot of Black content and they make a lot of money off of Black content,” he continued. “And I want to bring that to us now, where we can have our creators showcase that talent, but also have a place that is ours, that our content can live on something that is owned by us.”
DuBose addressed the fact that it is difficult for Black content to get accepted in Hollywood, even now.
“It’s still a struggle for us to get our content on the air, so to speak. It’s still a struggle for us to go and pitch shows and to do deals. You hear even some of our best stars still having some type of trouble when they’re out trying to sell content…And then a lot of the outlets will have a time period where you’ll see a lot of Black content, and then once they make their money or get out of it what they wanted to get out of it, they start not to give us the platforms or the timeslots that they did. And so one of the things I felt like for us–and my whole career–has been trying to elevate Black voices and trying to have our stories told in a real way that show the totality of the Black community, the totality of the culture, the ups and downs, the rhythms, the blues, the happiness, the sadness, the faith, the resiliency. And so everything that In the Black will scale up to be will eventually represent and have some type of programming that fits all of those emotions.”
“I don’t want you to just watch, I want you to feel what we’re doing,” he continued. “So that is the evolution that I want to continue. And also not just the same names that we hear over and over, no matter what platform you go to. There is a lot of talent in our community that doesn’t get the opportunity because they might not have the right representation or the right names or so forth, and [people in power] don’t give [chances] unless you’re already established. And so I want to be that place that if you have a great product that’s of quality, it’ll be a lot easier to get it done on In the Black Network than anywhere else.”
DuBose said that the streaming landscape has become “very difficult” due to the “significant cuts” the major streamers are making. First, In the Black will start out as a VOD network, making it initially free for the consumer to watch. The content on the network is what will eventually bring ad revenue to the streamer.
“I think even though the ad market is sort of a depressed market at the moment, what I’ve learned over the years is…if there’s quality content [and] you have enough of it, the eyeballs will come. And I think that’s what’s happening in this space,” he said. “…People need content to get eyeballs and eyeballs bring ad revenue and ad revenue brings money.”
He added, though, that the need for more and more viewers is what’s driving other streamers to “dilute the quality of what our culture stands for” with the content they greenlight and produce. With In the Black, he said that his focus will always be on quality.
“I believe when there’s quality, the people will come and when it’s free to them, the people will come. I believe the ads that market to our community should help bring that content to the platform. I really believe in that model. So I don’t want to go subscription based. And then, eventually, I want to scale up to linear [on television] where there’s a live feed. But right now I want you to be able to watch when you want to watch. But the key to all of that [is quality]. Quality is your currency.”
DuBose reiterated that he wants In the Black to be a place where people feel comfortable and compelled to come back to over and over again. That feeling is something probably a lot of Black-owned or Black-catering networks strive for. I mentioned how there are several networks out there like that, such as Cleo TV, who strive to show Blackness in all its facets. Yet, there’s a constant refrain on social media about how these networks aren’t supported enough by Black viewers. At the same time, because these networks are smaller and go under-advertised, many Black viewers aren’t aware of them and then say that there isn’t enough content that caters to Black viewers as a whole. Or worse, that the only content available to Black people on major networks is reality television.
“I think you have to go look for it,” said DuBose. “And I hear the argument to a degree. But also I always want to tell people we’re not a monolithic people. There’s a part of us that represents everything that we do. But you have to support the places. When we are doing inspiring content, sometimes the people don’t come. They say they want it. We do financial literacy [on Black networks], people say they want to know about it, but then they don’t necessarily come and support the product.”
“That’s why I go back to [being] entertaining and inspirational. People want to be entertained, but they also want to be inspired. And I think that might be what a lot of people are complaining about,” he continued. “If you want something, you have to go look for it because it’s out there. To me, In the Black Network is walking in my purpose and understanding that, so I don’t need a lot of motivation to wake up every day to do this. When you are walking in your purpose, it automatically motivates you to keep going. And I say that to say my purpose is to inspire my people, is to inspire the culture, entertain them, but most importantly inspire them to be better for themselves.”