Can Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs Revive the Music-Video Network?

Digital killed the video star

The revolution is now being televised.

Years after Fuse rebranded and MTV stopped playing music videos, hip-hop and fashion mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is looking to revive the business model. Earlier this week, Diddy launched his new cable network, Revolt TV, an ad-supported venture targeting the highly sought-after and elusive 18-34 demo. But can a channel predicated on delivering music videos compete with VOD services like YouTube and Vevo?

Revolt executives maintain that the network aspires to greater heights than merely serving up videos. (Indeed, Combs said he wants to establish Revolt as “the ESPN of music.”) 

CEO Keith Clinkscales said Revolt will “look behind the music,” adding that the network would develop news and information programming to complement the videos. “Our power is in our focus. Our focus is music. That’s why we’re different.”

Having secured carriage on Comcast and Time Warner Cable systems, Revolt launched Monday in some 25 million households. The channel is a reflection of Comcasts commitment to develop four minority-owned cable networks. In another high-profile project, the cable operator has joined forces with director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Machete Kills) on El Rey, an English-language net targeting young Latinos.

“It sounds like it’s trying to be what MTV was 30 years ago,” says Brad Adgate, svp of research at Horizon Media. “But the competition is now online and on-demand.” A former content and development svp at ESPN, Clinkscales acknowledges the challenge. “TV now is across many devices and platforms,” he said. “We’re trying to lure them to the music content, and not just the [brand].”

Of course, launching a cable network to reach TV-averse millennials may appear rather counterintuitive. “It seems to be, on some level, a paradox,” says Chris Raih at Zambezi, a Los Angeles-based creative agency specializing in sports and entertainment. “You’re launching a brand targeted at millennials, but you’re doing it on the medium of TV. Conventional wisdom tells you it doesn’t reach millennials that well.”

As much as music videos are no longer as relevant as they once were, “there’s still a demand for them,” says Ryan Aynes, co-founder of EDGE Collective, a music marketing company. “If you tie that to the demand for the stories behind the music, in a  24/7 news stream that’s a great idea.”

YouTube may prove to be Revolt’s biggest obstacle. Per Nielsen, YouTube reaches more adults in the 18-34 demo than any cable network, and some established pages boast millions of subscribers. Justin Bieber’s page alone has 6.37 million subscribers and has racked up more than 4 billion views. By comparison, Revolt TV’s YouTube channel has a little more than 35,000 subscribers and has generated 4.5 millions views.

Another major competitor, Vevo (which has a deal with YouTube) powers artists’ music on Facebook and other syndicated sites including AOL, BET, and Yahoo! Music. “You have to find your space in the music ecosystem,” Clinkscales said. “Our space is the curation of content, breaking news and the introduction of new acts…and we really want to hone in on news and information.”

For all the questions about Revolt’s viability, naysayers dismiss the venture at their own peril. “If anyone is going to do it, it’s [Diddy].” Raih said.