In the world of overused business jargon there are few terms that have been used more exhaustively than "content." The quest for content that will resonate with an audience has become a media arms race. Networks across the board are seeking their next big hit in a crowded content market. Identifying and growing content that is representative and reflective of a diverse audience is one of the most significant challenges faced by media companies. AspireTV, home to original series such as Butter + Brown (pictured at top), Unboxed with Nikki Chu and Icons, Idols + Influencers, has responded to that challenge by building a slate of original content uniquely designed to deliver on the network's programming promise.
The AspireTV difference is a model that relies on the “2Cs” of context and collaboration to develop shows that connect with viewers. The network is guided by its brand statement, See Yourself Here, which defines its approach to inclusive content focused on lifestyle programming for the black and urban audience, while recognizing that diverse audiences are seeking more than what they can find in mainstream shows. Seeing oneself reflected in a show only begins at inclusion.
In "seeing yourself" the Aspire audience is encouraged to think of the brand holistically as a place to eat, live, shop, play and dream. Those words are the cornerstones of AspireTV principles to empower its viewers to eat well, live their lives, shop with purpose, play hard and dream big.
A high-minded and positive approach to programming can only succeed with a deep connection to their core audience. "Our audience demands authenticity and as a network it is essential we provide that" said Melissa Ingram (pictured below), General Manager, in a recent interview. "When we look at our programming options, we understand how important it is for any show we create to reflect the values of our network and our audience," she explained.
This is the defining moment when context becomes more important than content. Context comes via subtle cues than can only be uncovered by having an expertise in the subject matter and conveying it to the audience in a relatable way. "When our audience watches Butter + Brown or Unboxed with Nikki Chu they are seeing creators and influencers who not only look like them, but sound like them and dress like them," Ingram said. "It is a broader palette and adds to their ability to relate to the viewing experience."
A broad palette can only be achieved when the black experience is given proper context that includes the diversity of the audience. "We know there isn't one singular black experience," Ingram stated when discussing the diverse interests of the Aspire audience. "Our programming narratives provide a more complete snapshot of the tapestry of the black community. In turn we are viewed as a welcoming place for black creators."
In general, the network environment is one that often stifles creativity and in turn alienates creative talent. AspireTV has avoided that potential pitfall by working to foster a collaborative atmosphere that borders on revolutionary. Rather than view their show personalities merely as hired talent, they are invited into the relationship as partners. In short, a collaborative environment is part of the AspireTV brand's secret sauce. "What makes our creative partners exceptional and successful is their voice and their style," Ingram noted. "The last thing we want to do is change that. We believe it is less risky to create a place where collaboration and trust are engrained in the creative process."
The chef duo of the hit show Butter + Brown, Seth Brundle and Leslie Antonoff, prove the AspireTV philosophy works. Brundle and Antonoff were hosting Butter + Brown online via Issa Rae's YouTube channel before joining AspireTV. (Rae is an executive producer on Butter + Brown.) Taking the leap from an online platform to a cable network can be daunting even for seasoned talent, and both were relative newcomers to the game. Aspire TV's commitment to placing their voices and their perspective at center helped them to make the decision that the network should be their home.
"From the very beginning we felt we were building something special with AspireTV," Antonoff said. "There was a mutual respect for our brand and our vision."
"Our show resonates with our audience partially because of the chemistry between Leslie and me," added Brundle. "The web series was based on our friendship and AspireTV was wise enough to know that realness was essential to Butter + Brown working on their platform." With a third season of Butter + Brown forthcoming the opportunities to push the boundaries remain vibrant.
Resisting the temptation to tamper with a working formula is tough for most corporate entities but AspireTV has made it part of their operating doctrine. By emphasizing context, i.e. broadening the idea of multicultural experience and collaboration, i.e. working openly with their creative talent, AspireTV is blazing new territory and continues to be a desirable destination for audience and creatives alike.
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