There seems to be no peak to “Peak TV” as tons of new shows and new streaming services are set for launch. Despite the industry-wide “more is better” strategy, AspireTV is adhering to a more thoughtful approach, emphasizing storytelling and connection to the audience to earn their attention. Its just-announced partnership with filmmaker Nakia Stephens, of Damn Write Originals (DWO), demonstrates the network’s commitment to shining a light on new creators and bringing their stories into the world ... especially when traditional media has done a poor job of evenly distributing stories that highlight diverse communities.
Stories are an essential part of the human experience, and AspireTV has positioned itself as a leading voice focused on stories for the black audience. Its goal of featuring relevant content that encourages audiences to “see yourself here” only succeeds if AspireTV empowers new talent to tell forward-facing stories.
“We are very keen to the fact that, while young black content creators may be unknown to a larger audience, they possess strong connections to a segment of the audience (known as Millennials) and are true influencers and storytellers of today’s black experience,” says Melissa Ingram, AspireTV’s General Manager. “We talk a lot about what they will become ‘tomorrow,’ but [these creators] are reflecting and shaping the culture today in a very organic way.”
In our attention economy, the oft-quoted “battle for eyeballs” means that failure to connect with your audience can be the kiss of death. Fresh faces can signal that you’re seeking new ideas and a deeper connection with current and potential viewers. Many networks prefer to work with known quantities, feeling there is less of a risk; yet, a similar play-it-safe strategy would not be as effective for AspireTV.
Knowing that success requires them to think and act differently, Ingram wants to push the envelope. “It’s important for us to amplify the efforts of young black filmmakers who are accurately reflecting the black experiences of today with our distribution channels,” she asserts. “Working with young black filmmakers validates our brand promise and allows us to bring fresh, authentic and desirable content to our larger audience.”
This creative, fertile ground is perfect for the type of partnership that has formed between AspireTV and DWO. AspireTV’s Urban Indie Film Block is the channel’s showcase of urban short films by some of the industry’s best and brightest upcoming filmmakers. Nakia Stephens is just such a filmmaker and her short film, Tre (pictured at top), will make its debut as the first AspireTV original short film on June 16 as a sneak preview for Season 2 of the Urban Indie Film Block.
AspireTV's commitment to a year-round slate of original projects by black filmmakers would not have been possible without first creating an environment that empowers filmmakers like Stephens. This makes the network a mutually beneficial home for them. “AspireTV is an attractive partner for Damn Write Originals,” Stephens says, “because they have values that directly align with ours. We are truly committed to stories with unique and underserved perspectives that elevate women and people of color. Aspire holds space for us to create those types of stories and the freedom to think outside the box.”
"The richness of the stories told by Damn Write Originals, as well as the quality of their short films, is what attracted AspireTV to [them],” Ingram notes of the symbiotic relationship. “There was real synergy in their purpose and our promise to ‘see yourself here.’ Quality, authentic voice and purpose are essential in our identification of filmmakers, content and partnerships, and Damn Write Originals embodies it all.”
Strong, brand-driven collaborations distinguish AspireTV from the competition. As much as the attention economy might feel like constant warfare, AspireTV prefers to focus on delivering value to its audience. “I feel strongly there are not enough platforms dedicated to the black audience, but I maintain AspireTV is unique in the way we tell our stories,” Ingram says. “Through our independent short films and lifestyle content, we’ve been able to tell stories and reflect the experiences, interests, attitudes and values of the black audience in authentic, entertaining and, most importantly, inspiring ways.”
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