Karmaloop launching niche cable network

Online retailer targeting young adults into 'verge culture'

Can verge culture bring young audiences back to the cable industry? Greg Selkoe, CEO of Boston-based streetwear online retailer Karmaloop -- which he founded in his parents' basement in 2000 -- and his team think so.

They have had success with online video offerings since 2008 and are seeking to launch in the fall digital cable network Karmaloop TV for the verge core audience of those ages 18-34. The target audience is described as multicultural and passionate about underground and cutting-edge music, fashion, design and other forms of lifestyle and entertainment.

Music acts Kanye West, the Wu Tang Clan, Diplo and Kid Cudi, snowboarder Shaun White and deejay-producer Clinton Sparks are among the heroes of "vergers."

"It's a cut and paste, mash-up culture that blurs traditional demographic definitions the industry has used," Selkoe said. "They are many races but one culture defined by ideas and passions. Age 18-25 is the sweet spot, but the culture really ranges from 14 into the 40s."

Former AMC Networks president and Lionsgate TV and digital executive Kate McEnroe has joined Karmaloop TV as president, and former AMC exec and Monsters HD president David Sehring has come on board as exec vp programming and acquisitions. They aim to help CEO Selkoe make Karmaloop TV, which will be based in Brooklyn, into the MTV of cable's lost generation.

McEnroe told THR that the firm is getting close to a couple of carriage deals that could come on cable digital or HD tiers.

"We are taking a very different approach to launching a network from what the industry is used to," she said, adding that distribution execs have asked their kids for input on her pitch. "Some have told us that their kids loved the idea and asked why such a channel doesn't already exist."

Selkoe touts the built-in audience of 4.5 million unique users a month at Karmaloop.com and its relationships with advertisers. "We own this space. People know us and turn to us," he said, highlighting that his firm has proved its connection with its audience and marketers by bringing in $100 million in revenue last year. And such celebrities as West and director Danny Boyle have stopped by for chats for Karmaloop's online video section.

Many vergers were the first generation brought up on the Web, meaning viral marketing via social networks and the like suits them better than traditional promotions. Case in point: Karmaloop has 50,000 "evangelists" using peer-to-peer tactics to promote the site and earn cash and discounted fashion. (An online campaign for the network kicks off May 1.)

The Karmaloop TV team envisions an HD network that initially will be about 70% movies, including "Blow," "Requiem for a Dream," "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," "From Dusk Till Dawn," Bollywood musicals, edgy Asian pics and cult classics, and 30% original programming.

Original shows planned include music video and interview show "The Smash-Up With Clinton Sparks"; "Poseur," Karmaloop TV's answer to "Wife Swap" featuring two representatives of different sub-cultures (for example, rappers and goths) swapping places and learning about each culture; "Cut'N Sew," a "Project Runway" with a streetwear twist; online flagship show "The Daily Loop," featuring a mix of fashion, lifestyle and culture news; and Globaloop, a Web program that explores political and social issues around the world -- from same sex marriage in the U.S. to the regime in Burma and U.S. interventions abroad

Important for vergers, Selkoe plans to get viewer feedback. "We have a great connection with our audience that has allowed us to stay relevant," he said. "They keep telling us what's cool."

McEnroe also expects opportunities to connect on-air content with commerce opportunities in the same way that Karmaloop does online with its "klickable" videos. Users can click on an appealing clothing item, which adds it to their online cart.
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