Sean Combs’ new Revolt channel launched with a nod to big dreams and its founder's musical past, bringing a new outlet for music to television.
Despite some technical glitches in its opening on Oct. 21, Combs aspires to nothing less than making Revolt the ESPN of music, with well-curated playlists and a strong focus on industry news.
“I want to know, who is Taylor Swift?” Combs said. “Why is Miley Cyrus twerking? Why did Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake go on tour? Why did Kanye West call his daughter ‘North’? The industry of music is just as important, or more important, as the industry of sports. Sports are covered in a serious manner and we want to follow in those footsteps.”
Most fans watch videos online or on demand these days, despite the existence of MTV’s networks, Fuse and BET. The struggling music industry doesn’t spend as much producing flashy videos as it did in MTV's heyday. Networks that have started out primarily with videos moved on, primarily because the format is unattractive to advertisers.
“We’re just going to do it better,” said Val Boreland, Revolt’s chief programming executive. Combs said he wants a network where people program from the gut instead of sales charts, citing legendary DJ Frankie Crocker and “Soul Train.” His executive team is heavy on industry experience, with former ESPN executive and Vibe magazine president Keith Clinkscales, former Warner Bros. and MTV executive Andy Schuon and Boreland, who worked at Comedy Central.
Boreland said Revolt will stay in contact with viewers through social media and said Fuse, for example, does not have a strong connection with fans. A Fuse spokeswoman declined to make an executive available to talk about Revolt, or the difficulties of beginning a new network.
At its start, Revolt is available only on Time Warner and some Comcast cable outlets. The channel's website is live streaming the first three days. Combs is encouraging fans to contact cable and satellite operators to urge them to begin airing Revolt.
The online launch Oct. 24 was marred by technical problems that operators blamed on demand. The picture repeatedly froze as Combs talked from the front steps of a Brooklyn home where the late Notorious B.I.G. grew up. The opening video was Biggie’s 1994 song “Juicy,” a song Combs produced in his Puff Daddy days, where the artist looked back on an improbable journey that began with big ambitions.
From there, Combs and former MTV VJ LaLa Anthony played tracks from the French DJ and producer Gesaffelstein, the California hip-hop duo Audio Push and the British electronic music duo Disclosure.
Revolt will air videos almost exclusively with a few news reports sprinkled in until January, when a new studio in Los Angeles opens for artist interviews and concerts.
Combs was compelled to release a video a few weeks ago making clear that Revolt will cover all forms of music. One of its two announced shows will focus exclusively on rock.
“People have made an assumption, because I’m a hip-hop artist and I’m African-American, that I’m going to try to make a second version of BET,” Combs said, “which I'm not.”
He said he’s wanted to start a music channel for several years, and looked into acquiring a struggling network and changing its format. His dreams meshed with Comcast, which was seeking networks with minority ownership.
At a party a few weeks ago, Combs ran into Oprah Winfrey and asked if she recognized his look of a stressed-out entrepreneur. Winfrey, whose own network got off to a rocky start, advised him to stay tough.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Combs said, “and it’s the most exciting thing I’ve done in a long time.”
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