Subscription News delivered straight to your inbox.


Zuora Unlock: Fireside Chat with Revolt CEO Detavio Samuels

Tien Tzuo
CEO, Zuora

Welcome! This week, during Zuora Unlock, we had fantastic conversations by bringing esteemed guests, customers, investors, and ambitious minds together to discuss the Subscription Economy, the direct-to-consumer relationship, making technology more accessible, and ultimately, becoming better examples as business leaders in disruptive industries.

As part of the event, I spoke with Revolt CEO, Detavio Samuels, touching upon how companies can genuinely tell the stories of their subscribers, and Revolt’s efforts towards changing the media landscape by making it more socially equitable, especially for Black creators and the historically marginalized.

It was a powerful conversation on the changing media landscape, and the ways in which subscriptions can bring together both creators and communities. There is no such thing as a mass audience anymore; advertising is about demographics, but subscriptions are about individual identities. New media success is about understanding your community, their identities, and having the awareness to tell their stories.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Welcome Detavio! Let’s start with Revolt: an incredibly successful company coming very well known in some circles, but not everybody knows what Revolt is. Why don’t you help us understand, what is Revolt and what is your vision for this company?

Sure, I love the question. So Revolt officially started about 10 years ago. Founded in 2013, by the legendary, iconic Sean Diddy, Sean Love, Combs, whatever name you want to call him, Revolt started off as a cable channel. Comcast gave us our first distribution. At the time, Sean was very much focused on a music revolution. The initial idea behind Revolt was essentially to bring back what MTV and VH1 was back in the days. They had all abandoned music videos and gone towards reality TV.

What happened to MTV was a complete tragedy. They stopped innovating, stopped creating, lost track of their audience, and wound up as an empty parking lot.

Exactly. So Revolt was about bringing music videos back, bringing a love for music back, but doing it for Gen Z. So it was going to be heavily anchored, centered in digital and social. They had a phenomenal launch, had a great start to this business, but then five years in the business is still not profitable.

That’s when you get the next leadership team to come in. That’s what we call and refer to as Revolt 2.0 – they essentially turn the company around from a fiscal perspective. The company goes from not being profitable to being profitable. Today, I’m grateful to be able to say our business is on fire. We are throwing off tons of EBITDA every single year; our viewership numbers are up triple digits; last year alone we grew our advertising business 3X and our digital advertising business 5X.

So, you started off as a cable TV channel with music videos, but look, it’s 2022. I’m guessing you’ve gone beyond the traditional cable channel, and see yourself today as more of a media conglomerate.

Yeah, you’re 1000% right in terms of seeing and identifying it as a media conglomerate. Revolt 1.0 was very much a cable network, we then made the shift from being a cable network to being a digital forward company. We reimagined our website which is now mobile first and video first because that’s why our audience comes to us and that’s where they come to. We launched all of our direct-to-consumer assets, or the beginnings of them. You can find us on Android, iOS, Apple TV, Roku, Fire, et cetera; you will continue to see us roll out more over the course of this year.

The other area we are really focused on now is with the creator community. Revolt has become a place where black content can be created. In fact, Everybody in hip hop calls every week, because they have ideas for shows they want to bring to Revolt. We see a significant opportunity to make sure that we build Revolt as a platform for future Black creators.

Let’s touch on that, this is a really important part of your identity. Give us a little sense of Revolt’s mission in the space of social justice and social equity.

Our entire company is now anchored in this idea of ownership and control that you talk about. So when we say, “We want to shift the narrative for Black people globally,” that is an entire idea that is about putting Black people in control of their own narrative. We can come in and say who we believe ourselves to be from a very authentic and internal perspective.

So, while the rest of the world wants to have a representation conversation, we are firmly anchored in this control piece that we believe that Black people need to be in control of our own narrative. That is the whole purpose and reason for Revolt existing.

This idea that as humans we really learn through stories and the narrative is so important. I heard you use what I believe is an African proverb, “Until the lion writes the story or becomes a narrator, it’s always going to be the story of the hunter and not the lion.” I thought that was really powerful.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. The way that we see it is, our whole reason for existing is to tell stories through the lens of the lion. The lion who is bold, who is courageous, who is strong, who is acknowledged by the rest of the world as the king of the jungle. But because it never held the pen in their hand, the world has never got to see the story through their lens.

How is Revolt changing the game of how you build relationships with these creators?

One, we would talk about the ability. We believe that there needs to be a Black-owned media company that has the ability to nurture Black creators from inception, all the way until they are the biggest people on stage. As an example, Issa Rae first started in social media, then she went to YouTube with Awkward Black Girl, then she went to HBO with Insecure. Now she has her own studio and is able to tell all of her own stories. We believe that there needs to be a Black media company who can help nurture these creatives through that entire life cycle, creating the space for them to tell their stories unapologetically, so that they can really decide and understand who they really are.

Another thing that we would talk about in terms of the creator economy is, we believe that there needs to be a Black owned media company who can anoint our greatest storytellers. Right now, when you look at major output deals or multi-year deals there’s probably four or five Black creatives: Kenya Barris, Shonda, Ava, etc.

They all have deals with Netflix, CBS, ABC. We believe that there needs to be a Black owned media company who’s handing out more of those multi-year deals to some of the most amazing creators that we have. We think about it from an ownership standpoint, from a format perspective. We talk all the time about how Black creatives are often boxed in.

The example I’ll use are Black creatives who haven’t been able to do horror movies, until Jordan Peele does Get Out. Right now, Jordan Peele’s on his third or fourth horror movie, Lena Waithe just got to do her first one. That door, that genre has now been broken for Black people.

Well, we believe that there’s a Black person with another Marvel in their mind. There’s a Black creator with another Star Wars in their mind. So much of what we also want to do is unbox these creatives so that they can be free to create in whatever genre. Their creativity sets them on fire.

That’s really powerful, and it really speaks to this era of new media that is about tapping into very specific communities. What kind of big projects do you have coming up when you look out to where you think the media’s going to be one, two, or three years from now? What are the things that truly excite you and where is there opportunity to bring more equity to Black creators?

The last piece we’re moving towards is we want to be seen as a media tech company. Building the tech layer as we see things like NFTs and the Metaverse and all the things that Web3 is driving. Without question, we believe that there’s a role for Revolt and the role that we play for Black creators is often to be a platform for them. We see a significant opportunity as this new era is building, unfolding to make sure that we build that platform for future Black creators.

There’s a big, big theme in the creative economy: if you’re the creator, you should certainly benefit from the spoils as well. There has to be wealth generation within the community that creates it. That’s very different from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube getting all the user-generated content for free, then running ads against it.

We’ve toyed around a little bit in the space of NFTs, but what I would say, for us the bigger play is really trying to understand how we are going to use Blockchain and how we are going to do it in the Metaverse. I’ll do the Metaverse first. Someone is going to try to build a Wakanda in the Metaverse. There will be worlds that will be built that leverage Hip Hop that leverage Black culture from a music perspective, from a storytelling perspective, from a fashion and a tech perspective.

For Revolt to play the role that we play for creators we need to be charting that path forward for them, right? One of the biggest projects we’re looking at is like, “What is our role in the Metaverse as a platform for Black creators? What do we need to build? What do we need to do so that we can usher them into this economy?”

Black people have quite often been left out of every kind of big boom that’s ever happened; missed out on the tobacco and the cotton boom, even though we were very much present. Missed out on the government giving housing, making housing loans available for folks due to things that are involved with systemic racism. Missed out on the gold rush; missed out on internet boom one, internet boom two. This is a moment where we’re saying, “We want to make sure that Black creators do not miss out.”

Hip hop is a great example where our genius and our creativity built billion dollar industries, but the middlemen made all the money and the Black creators made zero.

The term that I always hear thrown back in my face is ‘subscription fatigue,’ right? This whole idea that there’s Netflix, there’s Disney, then there’s Hulu, and does the world really need more streaming services: Amazon, Peacock, and the like? What are your views when you look at streaming overall or media? Do you feel like there’s more room for additional streaming providers or do you think it all gets consolidated down into Netflix and Disney?

At the end of the day? I do think you see big consolidation with folks like Netflix and Disney and Amazon. However, I do believe that there will be subcultures and niche audiences that are significantly underserved by those people, that still present an opportunity in the pure streaming business.

The way I look at it is we just have to be creative. Yes, we can run that play, which for me is straight up the middle, but there’s also a world where for me I’m thinking about how do you aggregate all of the Black content providers? How do you aggregate all of the Black networks underneath one streaming platform? So, now you have a Black Netflix, do I believe that can work? Absolutely. Or the other one for me, the way that I think about it is more of the Amazon business.

Hip Hop is not just music. Hip hop is not just video, hip hop is a lifestyle, right? What do you think about a subscription business where you get access to this incredible library of content, but you may also get access to the dopest gear? You may also get access backstage with Puff at the Oscars! You may also get access to all these other things that we may be able to provide from a lifestyle perspective that other people can’t. I believe in the subscription business, I just think people can’t be lazy. You have to be creative!

That was an incredible conversation. You are an amazing leader, and Revolt is an amazing company. Thank you, Detavio.

Tien, thank you so much for having me first and foremost. Thank you for seeing Revolt – it’s been great to be here.

Fresh subscription stories delivered to your inbox, weekly.

Subscribe to Subscribed
By using the website, you agree to the use of cookies. Head to our cookie policy to learn more about cookies and manage cookies on this website.