Sean “Diddy” Combs knows his way around the small screen — whether he’s launching reality competitions, peddling vodka in commercials, starring in music videos or doing guest spots on dramas.
But the hip-hop mogul’s next TV endeavor, his own lifestyle cable network called Revolt, is his most ambitious.
The venture was announced early last year after the multi-hyphenate star aligned with former MTV programming chief Andy Schuon and struck a distribution deal with Comcast as part of the cable provider’s push to launch more minority-owned independent networks.
The music-themed channel will debut in the fall to more than 25 million homes between Comcast subscribers and a recently secured carriage deal with Time Warner Cable, making it one of the largest network launches in history.
Combs,the network’s majority shareholder, called The Times from France — where he was promoting the network at the Cannes Lions Festival. He spoke about finding inspiration in MTV and Michael Jackson as well as his plans for Revolt and launching a music channel in the social media age.
How long had you been working on developing a network?
This has been a seven-year journey for me. When MTV stopped playing music videos, it created a huge cultural hole. Music is the most powerful art form that there is. Imagine a world without music. I can’t imagine not staying up all night, waiting to see the premiere of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” I couldn’t imagine not having a place to go and be introduced to new music and new bands. We have this art form that’s so powerful.
If you want to find out something about sports you can go to ESPN. If you want news, you can go to CNN or Fox. If you want to find out about music now you have to go to the Internet. When I was coming up as an artist I had a platform, at least I had a chance to perform on BET, MTV, “Soul Train.” Having Don Cornelius or Dick Clark — or Ed Sullivan back in the day — court you as something to look out for, that’s what you aspired to do.
We are living in a great time right now where this Millennial Generation has decided they are going to take their independence and entrepreneurship into their own hands and start making their own videos and records and distributing them. We need a platform. We need music to be covered and reported with a level of journalistic integrity.
What makes Revolt different from what's out there already?
This is a multi-platform venture. We will simultaneously be on all screens. It’s the first brand, or network, that specializes on Millennials to be built in the social media age. One of the things I’m most excited about is helping the future of music. When we lost that platform from other outlets and shows, that left a gaping hole in the culture. We plan on filling that hole and being a trusted authority.
But the generation you’re targeting has grown accustomed to gathering news on social media, and while music videos are played on some networks, YouTube and Vevo offer artists a wider audience.
There's a freedom in that, but that wasn’t their choice. To be honest BET and MTV changed their business model and [largely] stopped playing music. As a result [online] is what kids went to. The television experience two years from now will be different. You’ll be able to take it with you wherever you’re at. We are social by design, but at the same time you have artists out there. Take Michael Jackson; if he was still here do you think he’d want us to see “Thriller” for the first time on a 2-by-2-inch screen? No. He wants you to have that experience. We all strive to be successful enough to play on a big stage.
Any planned programming you can tease? If I’m tuning into Revolt, what’s a typical day of programming look like?
We will be covering news for you in a real-time way. We would start with a morning show. You’ll get interviews from some of your top artists. It’ll be provocative — not Howard Stern-ish, but it will ask and get the questions answered and have a fun feel that will start your day in the right way.
As the afternoon goes on we’ll have this unorthodox show which is on the state of music. People have a certain interest on the business of music and the industry and the news of that.
We will then go on to play the world’s best music videos and showcase the best emerging talents. On big premiere dates we will have more of a debate, roundtable show that talks about socially relevant topics that affect this culture. So, like, right now a huge topic is the Kanye West album. How do people feel about it? What’s the viewpoints? [The show] would get deep into that.
The gift (and curse) of social media is speed. How will a network born in the social media age keep up?
What will be consistent is every half-hour we will have a live news break, so we can report in real time about what’s going on in the world of music. There’s so much that happens, but there’s not always a place for it to be reported. When Michael Jackson passed away I turned to MTV, and because it wasn’t live or set up that way, they were playing reality shows and I couldn’t tell if the news was real. I had to turn to TMZ and CNN, and there’s something a little off about that.
Look at what recently happened with Lil Wayne [being hospitalized] or 2 Chainz [getting robbed], or Jay-Z with the Samsung deal. I can continue on and on about how much news is out there. The culture is so vibrant and powerful, but it's not being treated like that. We don’t treat music like we treat sports. We don’t frame it like that. That’s one of the things we want to do, but do it in this new age of social media.
You’ve tapped former staffers from Comedy Central, Radio One, MTV and BET for the network. Is the entire team in place?
Our journey has just began. We have more hires to make, more programming to make, we have some things to change. We just moved into our studio in Hollywood. There’s a lot of things that’s going to be different in two weeks than it is today. But this is the most exciting thing I’ve been involved in since the day I started Bad Boy Records.