Sean Combs’ Revolt TV Network Puts New Spin on Music

Startup venture scours Internet for talent, looks to fill void left by shifts at MTV, VH1

Sean Combs Revolt

With a little help from Comcast, Sean Combs is hoping to add “TV mogul” to his resume.

Combs’ music-centric startup cabler Revolt TV bows Oct. 21 with the intent of appealing to millennial auds who have strayed from linear smallscreen viewing but treat their mobile devices like limbs. Revolt plans to leverage digital platforms not only to distribute content, but also to source talent for the channel.

Revolt CEO Keith Clinkscales says that while Napster brought “the cold winds of forever-change” to the music biz at the turn of the millennium, those winds have brought with them a new way to program a music cabler.

“We’re a 24/7 music network across all types of screens,” Clinkscales says, billing Revolt as the “CNN or ESPN of music networks.” He adds that Revolt is social by design. “We live in a different age, thanks to all of the social-media tools, and there are young people who want to become famous. We want to make sure we provide that platform and find new talent.”

Napster and iTunes helped turn the physical, album-driven music biz into a digitally delivered, singles-based one.

And when MTV and VH1 strayed from their original mission statements, YouTube became not only the platform of choice for musicvideo viewing, but also a place for bizzers to discover talent, like Justin Bieber.

Now, Combs sees a way that he can combine platforms to fill a space in music television.

“Sean spoke eloquently about how as networks grow, it’s harder to play music and get (the) ratings needed to satisfy their business model,” says Clinkscales, whose history with the mogul goes back to a 1993 article he wrote about Combs for Vibe magazine. “This network is built specifically to make sure music is taken (into) account the entire time.”

The network, which is set to debut on Comcast and Time Warner Cable in roughly 25 million households, was birthed from Comcast’s plan to launch four minority-owned networks — an initiative agreed to with the FCC as part of the approval process for Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU in 2011. Based in Los Angeles, Revolt is owned by Combs Enterprises and boasts about 150 staffers. Its digital push included the announcement on YouTube and Instagram of an online casting campaign, dubbed “#iamRevolt,” in which talent was encouraged to post vids of themselves with the hashtag and potentially earn some time on air.

“We’re going to find people and give them a linear platform to showcase their talent,” says Val Boreland, Revolt’s exec VP of programming and strategy. “We (not only) want people on our network who have 1 million views on YouTube, but also 1,000.”

Revolt’s approach has raised eyebrows: Some worry the method will commodify fresh talent, since no fi nancial compensation is being offered yet for digital clips that make the cabler’s airwaves. Clinkscales fi nds such an assertion “antithetical” to the network’s ideals.

“As we get going and develop shows, our business model is not based on doing anything for free. It’s about reaching an awesome audience,” he says, noting the inherent value in media exposure for new talent.

Revolt’s lineup includes “Power to the People,” a series programmed by music fans; “Making the Brand,” which documents Combs’ experience in shaping Revolt; and a heaping helping of live performances, celebrity interviews and news segments. Content will be available on VOD, TV Everywhere, and through online streaming and mobile apps.

“We have the No. 1 marketer at the helm of our channel,” Boreland says of Combs, whose biz ventures span the fashion, restaurant and liquor industries, in addition to music.

The mogul has been hands-on with the new network, helping with creation of show titles, logo design and marketing, and meeting with talent before they are hired. He’s also been blasting Revolt updates to his social-media followers.

“Sean has rolled up his sleeves,” explains Clinkscales. “Music needs to be on TV more. We want to be the locus in that conversation.”