When Ousman Sahko Sow and Akin Adebowale founded Black tag in 2019, they sought to answer two questions: What would a streaming platform for a digitally savvy Black audience look like? And how could it become a destination for Black talent?
It turns out both answers have a lot to do with pay.
“What we’re building looks at the exploitative nature of monetizing Black creativity and instead finds a way to bring it back into the hands of creators in a sustainable manner by paying them what they’re worth,” Mr. Sow, 30 said in a recent interview. Over the last few years, Black creators have made several efforts to shine a light on the inequities they face when finding opportunities and being compensated for their work. Brands spent some $10 billion on influencer marketing in 2020, according to SignalFire, a venture capital firm that tracks the creator economy. But white creators make significantly more money than their Black counterparts, who tend to be given considerably less credit.
With that in mind, Black tag, which made its official debut last week, aims to build a product in the mold of YouTube and Netflix with a mix of produced shows that span music, travel, and more; licensed short films; and original videos made by creators. The goal is to become a destination for brands looking to work with Black creators and attract Black audiences.
Some of the app’s content can be watched whenever, on-demand, but much of it is only available live — a throwback to the era of appointment viewing. “It’s like the old days when we would gather to watch something that airs at 9 p.m.,” Mr. Adebowale, 33, said. “We want a communal experience and an antidote to the endless stream of content.” The founders said that there will never be an algorithm deciding what users see.
To appeal to creators, the company plans on sharing intellectual property rights on series and specials with them in the hopes of licensing their videos to outlets like Netflix and HBO. (This is unusual since most social media and entertainment companies own 100 percent of the creator content.) The founders are also exploring paid subscriptions; creators would receive a revenue cut based on their viewership and engagement.
The company’s goal is to get a mix of original shows, licensed movies, and content from the creators, not just in the United States, but across the Black diaspora, in London, Nigeria, or Brazil.
Before creating the app, Mr. Sow was a commercial film director whose clients included Adidas, Spotify, and Google. Mr. Adebowale was a creative director, composer, and software engineer; he has worked with Drake, Kanye West, and Jill Scott, and he considers Bob Johnson, a founder of BET, a mentor. Both were born in West Africa and grew up in the Atlanta area, though they didn’t meet until 2019, when they were introduced by mutual friends.
Currently, the Black tag has 13 employees who work out of the company’s headquarters in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City and 10 original shows, along with a handful of short films. The first week’s lineup includes originals like “Black Atlas,” a weekly travel series that taps local filmmakers to document Black life worldwide.
Other shows include “MGMT,” a mini-documentary series that profiles Black music industry veterans; one episode features Sean Famoso of LVRN Records. And later this month, a Black tag will introduce “Superimpose,” a musical performance series (the first features the rapper Kari Faux), and “What’s Your Sign?” a celebrity talk show where guests, including the designer Brandon Blackwood, chat over astrological birth charts and tarot cards.
Video content can be as short as one minute, which is about the length of “Hot Intermissions,” comical parodies of the traditional commercial break, or as long as feature films. The Black tag team hopes to scale up to 24 hours of programming.