Shantell Yasmine Abeydeera is an L.A.-based writer, performer and content creator. Her latest series, "Dating In Place," will be available on Revry, an L.A.-based, ad-supported, niche streaming service focused on the LGBTQ community.
Revry is one of many niche streaming services competing in an increasingly crowded market, where audience loyalty and good relationships with artists are key to success, as we probed in an earlier piece on what it takes for a niche streaming service to survive.
Revry is free and accessible to more than 250 million households and devices in over 130 countries. Its offerings are divided into several channels, such as "Revry News" and "Revry Live TV." "Dating In Place" will air on the channel " OML on Revry," which debuted earlier this month to focus on queer female programming.
It is a collaboration with OML, a boutique media company formerly called One More Lesbian, of which Abeydeera is also the director of content and partnerships.
dot.LA recently caught up with her about her new show, her thoughts on the value of queer spaces in the streaming world and how niche services can help build community around content.
OML on. Revry - Official Teaser
dot.LA: Do you consider yourself a queer-oriented artist?
Abeydeera: I consider myself to be a storyteller, first and foremost. But being queer is a very important part of of my storytelling journey, mainly because of the lack of representation that was available to me when I was younger. I wasn't seeing stories where I was represented on screen. And that's because of the fact that I am so unique, in being multi-ethnic, queer, very feminine-presenting, a lot of things that we just don't really on screen.
I was always really, really thirsty to see that kind of representation. I started creating queer storylines, and once it started being received by the queer community, I saw that there was such a need for it.
How does a platform like Revry allow you to get those kinds of representative stories out there?
I think it's huge, but there is definitely a struggle. Platforms like Revry obviously don't have the money behind them, the way that the mainstream streamers like your Hulus and your Amazons do. So it's harder for them to produce shows that are the kinds that bring in the audiences that become loyal.
What's really smart is that these guys are focusing a lot on short-form content, which is far more attainable for content-creators as well as for the platform. So, say for example, "Dating In Place": 10-minute episodes, 10 episodes of the series – that is far more affordable than 10 episodes of a half-hour series where you go from the show costing $20,000 to costing $150,000. It's easier for queer content-creators to fund short-form content.
In that sense, do you see Revry as a stepping stone to working with a different, perhaps larger distributor?
I would like to see the development of platforms like Revry. My hope is that these platforms develop and form the viewership they deserve, so that then they're able to become partners in creating more content. I'm not necessarily thirsty to go and work with a big machine, but I'm not totally against it either.
Are you worried about potentially pigeonholing your career by focusing on queer content or working with a queer-oriented distributor?
No, I don't really worry about pigeonholing my career, mainly because I think there are many different incarnations of queer stories that can be told. For a long time, queer people weren't able to tell their stories. I think we're going to start to see an expansion. So I'm looking forward to telling stories that just merely have queer characters in them. And where we're not necessarily calling it queer.
How do you see "Dating In Place" playing a role in that trajectory of telling broader queer stories?
One of the interesting things in "Dating In Place" is that we don't actually ever refer to any of the characters as being queer. We never talk about it. I think that's a big step. And there's never any reference to there being any issues with parents or families when it comes to these characters' sexual identity.
The issue was just that these two girls met, they were going to go on a date, and then the pandemic hit, and now they're in completely separate countries, and they're dating online and falling in love but they've never seen each other or touched each other.
If not for OML on Revry, what do you think would have happened with "Dating In Place"?
A lot of what happens to short-form content is it goes to festivals and then it goes to YouTube. And especially for queer content, that's kind of the death for the content creator, because queer content on YouTube is quite famously de-monetized. So the money that you're making on the clicks of queer content is, like, minus cents in comparison to other content that can maybe make like a dollar, or whatever. So I think without a platform like OML on Revry, a show like "Dating in Place" would have just gone on YouTube or Vimeo.
How else would you say having your show on OML on Revry is beneficial to you as a creator?
The thing that I will say about the queer community, especially – consumers of queer content – is that they're very loyal. Once they become interested in your content, they are then interested in you and invested in you. As an artist and as a creator, that's really all you can ask for: people that are going to be there to view the content that you've made, and people that are going to be there when you make more.
I'm really excited for this platform to exist for this audience. Before, a lot of this audience, the fandom audience, kind of would just be scrolling through YouTube, clicking on tiny thumbnails trying to figure out, is this a queer-inclusive show? And now, hopefully, they will migrate over to a platform where they know that all of the content is queer-inclusive and queer-positive, and has been made for them. Hopefully, now this audience will find a home.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
- Can a Niche Streaming Service Survive the Streaming Wars? - dot.LA ›
- Can a Niche Streaming Service Survive the Streaming Wars? - dot.LA ›
Do niche services have a role to play in the streaming wars, or are they a musket in a battle of machine guns?
Heavyweight streaming services like Netflix, Peacock and Amazon are fighting for supremacy with broad, everything-for-everyone models.
Niche streaming services, by contrast, focus on a specific type of content for a specific audience. They pride themselves on being able to curate viewers' experiences with shows and movies they might not otherwise find. They often highlight their service's authenticity, efficiency and focus as competitive advantages. But as the behemoths spend big and increasingly expand their content libraries, is curation and community enough to survive?
BritBox chief executive Soumya Sriraman
"My board very laudingly says 'you guys have figured out how to get high-quality subscribers'," said Soumya Sriraman, chief executive of BritBox, a niche subscription service for British programming that launched in 2017 and recently surpassed 1 million subscribers. Sriraman told dot.LA that BritBox's focus has helped it to provide viewers a sense of community, which builds loyalty. She cites a high conversion rate of free-trial users to paying subscribers, and low cancellations.
"That's the goal – to bring in the right person and keep them," she said. "I don't want someone with a fleeting interest."
Sriraman suggested that offering that community feel is harder for the bigger, broad-serving platforms, and that being niche allows her team to better understand the interests of current and prospective customers.
"We can stay focused on learning more and more about them, and hence we'll be more efficient," she said.
L.A.-based Revry focuses on queer programming. The service is available for free or via an ad-free subscription tier. Viewers can also increasingly find it on third-party streaming services such as The Roku Channel. This range of distribution has helped Revry to reach over 250 million households and devices worldwide, according to chief executive Damian Pelliccione.
Pelliccione noted that his executive team includes two women of color and a Latino male, which he said underscores Revry's authenticity. He added that on his desk in Glendale sits a framed letter from a Saudi Arabian gay man who wrote to thank Revry for showing him that there are "other people out there like him."
"Consumers can sniff you out," Pelliccione said. "So when we're talking about Revry's impact and mission, it affects revenue."
That mission and community focus, he said, is itself a competitive advantage.
"Netflix has way more market share," he said, "but we call it the Netflix paradox: they're focused on a horizontal, not a vertical. We have the ability to take risks, to push boundaries, and to effectuate that diversity, inclusivity and authenticity."
Dekkoo, a subscription service founded in 2015 focused exclusively on content for gay men, sees its strength in controlling costs and appealing to a specific viewer.
"We're not really looking to have 100 million subscribers; our goal is to provide a service to a neglected audience," Dekkoo president and co-founder Brian Sokel told dot.LA. "Our size and scale means we have so little overhead that we're able to operate in this special universe and provide an add-on experience for the person who's a real connoisseur of gay cinema."
Sokel added that sticking to a subscription model rather than advertising helps his service remain true to its viewers. "(On advertising-based platforms), the content doesn't become the focus, the advertising does. We can just focus on the content," he said.
"There's not a chance that we'll go out of business," Sokel added, noting that Dekkoo has no debt and average monthly subscriber growth of 5-10% (which has increased of late because of COVID, he said). "We're going to be here."
L.A.-based Revry focuses on queer programming.
A Question of Costs
Not everyone buys the logic that focus, authenticity and efficiency will enable niche services to survive.
Most niche services have a limited customer base. This puts a ceiling on their potential revenues and ability to pay for content.
Media analyst Matthew Ball recently wrote that "It's increasingly clear that (niche is) not going to work."
"The cost of content doesn't change based on whether the buyer is large or small, profitable or unprofitable, niche or broad," Ball told dot.LA. He argues that serving customer demand for a given niche is ultimately "a question of who can spend more on titles."
This math favors the more cash-rich, larger services, which Ball said already "are going after...niches and will service them well." In his thread, he points out that anime is appearing in non-niche libraries more often. For instance, Crunchyroll, a niche service for anime, is sharing more of its content with the recently launched HBO Max (Crunchyroll and HBO Max share the same parent company, WarnerMedia.)
DC Universe, a streaming service devoted to the DC comics franchise (and also owned by WarnerMedia), has increasingly been shuttling its content to HBO Max. The service declined a request for interview.
But Alden Budill, Crunchyroll's head of global partnerships and content strategy, told dot.LA that only a small percentage of Crunchyroll's content is available on HBO Max. She likened those titles to "gateway anime" likely to appeal to a broad audience, with the goal to attract new customers to the niche service.
"We see it as an opportunity to create visibility," she said.
That's a perspective shared by other niche services. Sriraman pointed out that BritBox benefits from having breakouts like "The Crown" on Netflix and "Downton Abbey" on Amazon, which serve as a kind of on-ramp for new consumers of British TV.
Ball, however, reached a different conclusion: "As Netflix pioneered + few once believed: (the) model is everything for everyone, always."
Dekkoo focuses on content for gay men
Niche vs the Everything Model
Brett Danaher, an economics professor at Chapman University who specializes in entertainment analytics, sees a case for both sides.
Generally, he says, the economics favor the everything-for-everyone model. The reason: bundling.
In an industry like entertainment, Danaher said – in which you might pay $5 to watch "The Irishman" but $10 to watch "Selling Sunset," and your friend would do the opposite – bundling those pieces of content together is the optimal business model. The more products in the bundle, and the more diverse those products are, the better, he added.
But there's an exception: "streaming fatigue."
Because Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+ and other streaming titans are battling for content – each claiming some, but not all, of what viewers are looking for – a fan of a given niche may grow exasperated by the difficulty of actually finding it.
"A niche service could be the solution," Danaher said – provided three things are true.
First, he said, there must be enough demand for the content. If it's too niche, it'll be hard to generate enough revenue to cover the costs of acquiring and/or producing titles – which Sriraman said tend to grow over time.
Second, to serve as an antidote to streaming fatigue, consumers have to feel the service provides the "majority of the content within that particular niche," Danaher said. This doesn't mean the niche service must be the exclusive provider of that content, though.
Lastly, Danaher said that for a niche service to succeed, content creators must see value in having their material on the platform. Otherwise, they could decide to sign an exclusive deal with another, larger service, leaving the niche service with an insufficient catalog.
The Creator's Leverage
To that point, Budill of Crunchyroll said that anime-makers recognize how her service has attracted a legion of loyal fans, recently surpassing 3 million subscribers.
"If you are a creator seeking to reach a critical mass of authentic anime fans, we believe that we've demonstrated that we can be trusted," she said.
Sokel, too, said Dekkoo is "very valuable to a filmmaker: They can make a video and say, 'How does anyone find my film on Amazon? How much money do I have to spend to get people to find it?' Whereas they know that with Dekkoo, if they've created a film that would be of interest to gay men, there's no better platform for a specific audience that wants to see your film."
The big platforms' data-rich algorithms are meant to help viewers find content suited to their tastes, but Danaher notes they have shortcomings.
Alden Budill, Crunchyroll's head of global partnerships and content strategy.
"Each service only wants to write an algorithm to recommend to you content that is on their service, rather than actually the best piece of content. So the ability of algorithms to help you find the content within a niche is limited by how much content that service actually has within that niche," he said. Conversely, he continued, so long as a niche service meets those three conditions, "they are both able and incentivized to develop an algorithm to point you to the best piece of content within that niche for your preferences. And, you know it's right there for you to watch. This is the best argument I can come up with for niche services to survive."
Having support from a bigger corporation makes a difference, too. Sriraman points to BritBox's mutually beneficial relationship with its owners, BBC Studio and ITV, two of the biggest producers of British programming. Likewise, Crunchyroll's backing from WarnerMedia could strengthen its chances.
Another possibility for a niche streaming service is being acquired by a heavyweight hunting for content.
Pelliccione said Revry has already turned down two acquisition offers, information he says he's never shared with a publication.
Sokel said, "I think there's logic behind coming in and buying a company like ours. A major player could look at Dekkoo and say they serve this market, why not just acquire them? (Especially since we're) cash positive and no debt. But we don't chase that."
Given the many factors that will determine the fates of niche services as the streaming wars rage on, there appears to be just one obvious answer for now: we'll have to keep watching.
Sam Blake primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA
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