Revolt TV CEO on Sean Combs' Plan to Conquer Cable

From left to right: Andy Schuon, Sean Combs and Keith Clinkscales
From left to right: Andy Schuon, Sean Combs and Keith Clinkscales
 

Sean Combs is betting big on Revolt TV.

At 5 p.m. PST Monday, the all-music channel goes live in the homes of about 22 million Comcast subscribers and 12 million Time Warner Cable customers, marking one of the biggest launches of a cable channel in years.

Revolt TV is the latest brainchild of Combs (aka Diddy, P. Diddy, Puff Daddy), a serial entrepreneur who has found success in music as an executive and hip-hop artist as well as in fashion, liquor, marketing and more, helping him accumulate a fortune that Forbes estimated in 2012 at $550 million.

Now, seven years after he first conceived of a new kind of all-music channel, Combs is pouring tens of millions of that into launching a service aimed at 18- to 34-year-olds -- members of the millennial generation -- who consume more music than ever but not necessarily in the traditional ways of listening to the radio or watching cable TV. In fact, they are the generation often described as "cord cutters," because they haven't rushed to subscribe to cable and often are more likely to view TV on a mobile phone or tablet computer than on the living-room flat screen.

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Combs has chosen Keith Clinkscales, who helped Quincy Jones launch Vibe magazine and spent years doing content development for ESPN, to be CEO of Revolt TV. He hired former MTV programming chief Andy Schuon as president. They have been working with a team of more than 100 other hires, mostly at Los Angeles headquarters and in New York City, to figure out how to make the all-music formula work on TV.

Clinkscales says it's a good time to launch because music and digital consumption are both up.

"You have more and more bands and artists going across the whole ecosystem. Music is very healthy," Clinkscales tells The Hollywood Reporter. "To have a place that can be the center of that -- we would like to earn that position by reaching our fans well. We have to have good access and engage with the artists and be able to go ahead and provide sponsors, advertisers, and record companies a place where we can meet."

Two decades after he founded Bad Boy Records, Combs at 44 seems confident he can reach the younger generation and build a significant business by connecting with his audience on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media as a way to lure them to his cable channel. He calls it the first launch in the era of social media.

His pitch is simple. It will be fresh and unlike what you have seen before. "I said it twice," he recently tweeted, "and imma say it again. No Rules. Anything can happen. @RevoltTV."

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Combs has crisscrossed the country in the last year, meeting with brands and advertisers, talking up his channel vision to advertisers, media and some private investors who have joined his latest venture as minority financiers.

He seems confident even though there are lots of challenges for a music channel. Consider that MTV started with a business plan similar to what Combs has in mind: Get lots of videos at little cost from record companies and artists, present them with exciting young personalities, fill in airtime with music-oriented news and attract advertisers who are hip to the value of this audience.

What happened, however, was that over time MTV couldn't generate high enough ratings with that formula. So it shifted its focus to individual shows, first with reality and then scripted, pushing the music to MTV2, until that too became more series oriented.

There is also Fuse, a music channel owned by The Madison Square Garden Company, Mark Cuban's AXS pay channel, and of course Viacom's VH-1, which programs music and series but for a somewhat older crowd. All have struggled to build their own viewership to a significant level.

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Revolt TV is one of about 10 channels chosen by Comcast for carriage in fulfillment of a 2011 agreement when the big cable company bought NBCUniversal to provide more diversity across the dial. Combs was one of those who sought such carriage. He won that lottery, but now he has to prove his formula will really draw millennials.

Clinkscales says that both Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which is also a charter carrier of Revolt TV, see this as a way to turn those cable cutters into cable consumers. The two cable giants are distributing but are not investors in Revolt TV.

"The leadership opportunity for them was to recognize what we're trying to do is reach a new generation of people who are going to be watching cable in the future," says Clinkscales. "When I came out of college, getting cable was an extremely important thing in my life. For the generation currently coming out of college and going into the workforce, that challenge is something cable operators have to address. We're hoping to develop the kind of product that can help them meet that challenge."

Clinkscales says that they believe the combination of social media, an online presence (but not a full stream of the channel) and smart programming carefully targeted at their millennial audience will draw in viewers, who then will return because of the environment of music, culture, fashion and insider insight.

"This won't be just a channel," says Clinkscales. "The main thing were going to do is be a place where you can get news and information about music. We want to make sure when you come to Revolt, you're getting a full picture of what is happening in the world of music."

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In September, Revolt TV hired Bruce Perlmutter, the former editor of E! News and E! Online, to head production and Rahman Duke to head  news operation. Clinkscales says they will have reports not only about music newsmakers, but also behind-the-scenes at concerts, music festivals and related events.

 

The planned shows are being designed both to attract millennials and to interact with them. One called Power to the People is supposed to reflect content based on feedback from the audience.

Combs' presence suggests that music and the related news will be mostly urban, hip-hop and possibly R&B-related, but Combs has said (and Clinkscales is adamant) it will program beyond that.

"We are working hard from the launch to be not just an urban channel but a channel that covers all music, from alternative to rock 'n' roll to hip-hop and down the line."

Even country? "If young people bang it," promises Clinkscales, "we'll cover it. If the target audience we are after likes electronic dance music, we're going to be there."

They don't plan to sign a lot of artists to exclusive music and video breaks, at least not initially. And Clinkscales insists that it will be one of the few places to discover emerging artists -- whom it plans to identify early on and bring to the market.

"We want artists to be more vulnerable & say what they really feel," read a recent Revolt TV tweet, "even introduce us into their private lives. Don't be upset when they do."

"We're out here on a mission," read another tweet, "to use music as an influence to make your OWN rules. Get it? No Rules."

Revolt TV also has a movie division, Revolt Film, which to date has one picture and one documentary under its belt. The movie, Lawless, starring Shia LaBeouf and Jessica Chastain, was released in Aug. 2012 and grossed about $51 million worldwide. Revolt Film came onto Lawless as a financier after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

So will Combs rule as he has in hip-hop, fashion and vodka? He has said he is ready to do and spend what it takes for as long as it takes.

"You can feel music now bringing back the excitement and emotion of the timeless years," read another Revolt TV tweet. "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

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