Can a Little-Known YouTube Show Make It on TV? ‘BRKDWN’ Will Find Out

Peter Griffith used money from YouTube to launch a channel, then turned that channel into a TV show

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 8:43 PM

Peter Griffith is turning to TV for the money he can’t make on YouTube.

The CEO of Alchemy Networks has a half-hour show debuting on Bounce TV Monday night. “BRKDWN” features two hosts riffing on news like Lamar Odom’s divorce.

It’s a swift jump for a show that’s less than a year old and has a relatively small subscription base.

While a handful of successful online properties have already made the jump to TV, including the Annoying Orange on Cartoon Network and AwesomenessTV on Nickelodeon, they earned those shows after developing massive subscribers bases on YouTube. “BRKDWN” has just a shade more than 30,000 subscribers.

Also read: Can CodeBlack Change Hollywood’s ‘Cliched’ Approach to Black Viewers?

This doesn’t concern Griffith. The former cable exec, who produces shows aimed at a young urban audience on several YouTube channels, considers the plaform a farm system. At this point, Griffith says, the economics of TV are still more desirable than YouTube’s paid model.

“We all know the stories about YouTube economics; I’m not going to try to pretend they are better for us than anyone else,” Griffith, one of YouTube’s initial partners on subscription channels, told TheWrap. “The economics on YouTube are challenged.”

He described YouTube’s subscription efforts, still in the pilot phase, as premature, saying subscriptions are “still a long way off from being a viable business model.”

Also read: YouTube Partner: We Are ‘Not Happy’ With Money From Subscription Channels

So he conceived “BRKDWN,” a free channel, as a TV show. He partnered with the iconic TV production company Bunim/Murray, and chose a format, news and variety, that worked for everyone from Chelsea Handler to Daniel Tosh.

“Our initial approach was to go out and partner with other YouTube companies like [Maker Studios], but we weren’t sure whether or not they could really produce content that could go to TV immediately,” Griffith said.

Bunim/Murray, Griffith said, shared his belief that the show was “ripe for TV.”

Alchemy and Bunim/Murray conducted a massive talent search to identify two hosts, settling on Cynthia Luciette and Jon Scarlett. This was risky, Griffith said, because they selected two people without a big following on the world’s largest online video site. Instead, they selected hosts they thought would work on TV.

They have since created more than 250 videos for the web, and will continue to produce new clips. The second season of “BRKDWN” debuts online tomorrow.

Griffith believes that the show has small screen potential due to the fervor of its subscribers.

“We don’t want just any viewers; we want to get the right viewers,” Griffith told TheWrap. “This is a theory, but YouTube will tell you they care less about views and more about watch time and retention. We have high retention.”

Also read: YouTube’s Biggest Partners: Show Me the Money (Video)

Billy Hall, Bounce TV’s Exec VP of Programming & Production, echoed Griffith’s mantra.

“Bounce was looking for a program that would connect with a young urban audience,” Hall told TheWrap. “We thought it was a perfect fit for our network.”

It was also ready to go into production, which made it even more appealing to a three-year-old TV network.

“We’re looking for nontraditional ways to find content and reach our African-American audience,” Hall said. “Rather than spend two to three years developing a show, we were anxious to find content that was already speaking to an audience.”

The trick, the producers say, is weaving the online segments into longer TV bits.

“The key is to make the TV show not feel choppy – like online segments stitched together,” Bunim/Murray’s SVP of digital Daniel Tibbets told TheWrap. “We have produced more than 250 episodes for online and this week we’ll hit 250 episodes of its companion show ‘Red Hawt Gossip.’  We have 500 episodes under our belt to prove it’s a viable, interesting product.”

That product is even more appealing now that a fleet of new cable networks are targeting black viewers, including Bounce TV and Revolt, a channel conceived by P. Diddy that is still in development. Both of those want to reach the young, urban, tech-savvy audience that Alchemy has targeted with its show.

And Alchemy wants to make more money than it could on YouTube.

“In today’s landscape, you still need that multi-platform approach to generate any semblance of cash flow,” Griffith said. “You need that multi-platform approach to broaden the audience, particularly for an urban audience. They are not just on YouTube; they are on World Star Hip-Hop, on Vine, on Twitter.

“YouTube is still 18-34 white male content offering,” he said. “It’s changing, but our audience is a little more diffuse than that.”