The idea of being black and sexy is practically nonexistent in mainstream TV shows and movies, but the creators of Black&Sexy TV believed that there was an audience for stories that examined black sexuality and relationships when they launched their first Web series, The Number, on YouTube in 2011.
Of course they were right, and after attracting a huge following with several successful Web shows, Black&Sexy TV is poised for even bigger things with the launch of a premium subscription service and a collaboration with cable titan HBO to develop the Web series The Couple, which debuted in 2012.
“People are drawn to the type of content we offer because it’s for a progressive black audience or people who enjoy black culture in a modern way. It’s not really found anywhere else quite like that, and that’s what makes it unique,” Numa Perrier, co-founder and director of programming and development at Black&Sexy TV, told The Root.
The Los Angeles-based entertainment-and-lifestyle network—a spin-off of co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Dennis Dortch’s film, A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy, which screened at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival—has garnered more than 11 million YouTube views and more than 110,000 subscribers to its channel.
Fans were drawn to shows like RoomieLoverFriends, The Couple, Hello Cupid and Sexless, which examined relationships though the eyes of young, black and sexy characters with storylines that were witty and quirky yet not overdone or formulaic.
After they achieved success on YouTube and learned more about their options as entrepreneurs, the minds behind Black&Sexy TV—which, in addition to Dortch and Perrier, include Creative Director Brian Ali Harding and producing partner Jeanine Daniels—began expanding their business model to include pay-per-view for season finales of its YouTube shows at $3 each, which allowed them to truly gauge viewer interest.
Confident in their new direction, the Black&Sexy TV creators teamed up with VHX, a company that simplifies digital distribution, to launch Black&Sexy Now, a premium subscription service in February, charging $7 a month for exclusive, original content.
“We don’t own YouTube; we own Black&Sexy TV. So ownership is paramount for us,” Perrier said. “Anyone who uses the YouTube service are referred to as partners, so we look at that company as a partner to our company and as an entry point for discoverability. But that’s never been our overall vision, to grow something so huge on YouTube, where we still don’t own at the end of the day. YouTube goes under, we go under; it’s always been about a larger vision than that.”
Viewers will still be able to watch content on YouTube with the option of continuing with the pay-per-view season finales, but newer shows, like Sexless, which launched in early May, will be available only as part of the paid monthly service.
“We’re focusing on and building out our library, so when you go to Black&Sexy Now, we have hard-core fans who are really supportive of that venture, and later this year we want to build that library out so that it’s a place you get lost in when you get your subscription,” Dortch said. “We’re building out, knowing that this is going to be very similar to Netflix. You’ll have Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and, now, Black&Sexy TV. That’s what we’re going for.”
Dortch and Perrier said that Black&Sexy TV’s business is doing well, with the company hitting its projected goals thus far. Based on that success, they are preparing to launch several new programs, starting with a RoomieLoverFriends prequel in June; a RoomieLoverFriends movie, which picks up where the last season left off; and a spinoff series, RoomieLoverGirlfriends, in July.
“The RoomieLoverFriends prequel will tell the story leading up to when [the main characters] moved in together, so we’re real excited about that, because of all of the juicy tidbits that will help people understand the movie,” Perrier said. “And then the spin-off that we’re doing, RoomieLoverGirlfriends, will be our first LGBT series, and it will be about the characters who moved downstairs [from the original characters].”
Then, of course, there is development of The Couple for HBO, which will be executive-produced by Spike Lee. Dortch and Perrier didn’t have much to reveal about the collaboration—the series is loosely based on their relationship (they also have a young daughter)—but they said that it’s a slow process and they are currently passing scripts back and forth with the network until the final version is approved.
“It’s about starting small and getting everything under your belt. Doing something that’s uniquely yours and building an audience and, for us, where we go once we did more than one show. You have to figure out what works for you,” Dortch said. “We did it by building one show at a time, and that’s just building a brand, which is very important if you’re gonna be independent, especially entertaining your audience and taking them with you to each level as you go up.”
Starrene Rhett Rocque is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer who often fantasizes about becoming a shotgun-toting, B movie heroine. Follow her on Twitter.