NYC TV Embraces the 'Weird' of Public Access — While Eyeing Global Expansion
A scene from Downtown Girls, a Web series that's on NYC TV
Alexandra Serio spent the past weekend watching 75 Web videos, but this was no trip down the YouTube rabbit hole: Instead, Serio was looking for content for NYC TV, the nascent Web-based channel she's helping build as a way to promote videos made by New Yorkers.
"The overwhelming amount of submissions were — no surprise — documentary," Serio tells the Voice, adding that animation and Web series, along with a good number of "ambient" pieces that make use of New York scenery, rounded out the first batch of submissions that have arrived since NYC TV launched with a Kickstarter campaign on June 4.
Serio and her NYC TV partners, Kareem Ahmed and Max Nelson, all met while working at Vice Media. And while they would first split up and move on to different media companies, in October 2014, the trio formed NYC TV. Their initial aim is to release a video every other day and to gradually increase the output from there. In addition to publishing freelance videos, NYC TV will also create original content.
There are only a few rules, the most important being that all videos must be made by New Yorkers.
"Basically NYC TV exists to tell the stories of New York creators, so the story could literally be about anything," Serio says. "It could be about China, it could be about Israel, it could be about human rights in Guatemala, as long as the crew that shoots it is New York–based."
Serio will head up the project's lean "curatorial board" (currently consisting of just the three founders), which will be selecting the videos to put on the site, paying the creators, and distributing the content to places where people watch these days: YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else technology allows.
Of the group's $50,000 Kickstarter goal, 70 percent will go toward paying content creators, 20 percent to marketing, and 10 percent to building technology to support it.
And what can viewers expect from the content itself?
"We have a Venn diagram approach," Serio says. "We want to talk about the levity, the lighter side of New York, and what makes it great to live here. And then we want to educate the audience, whether it's through a service journalism aspect or kind of a utility item that New Yorkers will find useful."
That sort of utility will come quickly in the form of a daily morning video that might only last about fifteen seconds, hosted by a drag performer (casting begins in about two weeks!).
"We're definitely looking for performers, either male or female, and it's going to probably be themes on a monthly or weekly basis," Serio explains. "So it won't always be a drag queen performer, but I think it could kind of be a great way to make a splash about a utility thing that everybody needs in New York City, but a quick kind of fifteen-second way to wake you up."
In a Medium post published in time with the launch of NYC TV's fundraising campaign, Serio recalls Glenn O’Brien’s TV Party, the public access show in New York City that debuted in 1978 during the wee hours: "Sure, the guests and studio audience were cool, but so were the viewers who stayed up late to tune in," she writes.
Serio tells the Voice that NYC TV has a bit of that late-night, anything-goes creativity in its blood: "We definitely embrace whatever anybody wants to create. Bring the weird." She qualifies that statement with this, though: "But I think that public access is more of a reference point and kind of the spirit of that, which is a platform that's invested in the creative community of New York City."
Because while public-access TV was noncommercial and regulated by the FCC, make no mistake: NYC TV is a commercial enterprise.
"Our revenue model is based on brand sponsorships, whether that's branded content, product integration, or new and innovative ways to kind of weave brand ethos into the story," Serio says. She point to Vice's The Creators Project, launched in 2009 and sponsored by Intel, as a "stellar example" of branded content. (Another rule is that there will be no traditional display advertising.)
Serio would like to see NYC TV expand to other U.S. cities: "NYC TV was conceived as a scalable model, so going into creative communities such as L.A., San Francisco, Denver, Minneapolis, and Austin, Texas," she says. "Places that are metropolitan centers with creative communities that are run independently by the endemic editorial board that lives there, with oversight from our team."
And then, the world: "Our sights are set on global, so going to a London or a Berlin is very interesting to us as well, because of the creative communities that are there," Serio says.
For a filmmaker who likes to keep it brief — submissions were all between three and twelve minutes — Serio says NYC TV will handle the marketing and distributing of the piece. In short, they'll upload it to all the places people watch videos, as well as their own site, promising to "maximize exposure for creators."
"I think the best practices we're able to employ on all those platforms, and just the knowledge base, is greater than the average producer or video creator," Serio says when asked why filmmakers should choose NYC TV over just uploading to their own YouTube channel and hoping the work takes off.
Serio says she's confident that NYC TV is going to hit its Kickstarter goal — "there's no plan B," she says — and adds they are currently in an angel investing round that closes in mid-July.
While the official name of the channel is "NYC dot TV," they haven't had much luck securing that domain — it's still parked, by somebody: "They are not responding to us," Serio says. "It's a challenge to track the [owner] down." So for now, the URL is www.watchnyc.tv.
Meanwhile, Serio is already getting in touch with videographers who emailed their submissions: "A few people are coming into the office next week and we have some calls to talk about their content. It was a really great first week."
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