Life After Diddy: Revolt CEO on Forging New Path Amid Mogul’s Departure

Just one month after Revolt celebrated its 10-year anniversary, the company embarked on a rocky path and still faces questions about its future after founder Sean “Diddy” Combs stepped down as its chairman amid allegations of sexual assault in November.

Combs removed himself from the company after he was beset with multiple lawsuits, the first from ex-girlfriend Cassie, who accused him of sexual assault and other forms of abuse in an explosive lawsuit Combs quickly settled while denying the claims. Additional lawsuits were filed by others; the case against Combs grew even more serious March 25, when his houses were raided by federal agents as part of what was described as an ongoing investigation.

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Combs launched Revolt with former studio executive Andy Schuon in October 2013 as an urban music-focused digital cable television network geared toward African American audiences, and remained a visible part of the brand until his departure. Yet despite the drama surrounding Combs that has now also enveloped rapper Yung Miami — the host of the Revolt talk show Caresha Please who was named in a recent lawsuit — the media and TV company has stood strong as its own entity, insists CEO Detavio Samuels.

“We lost no clients, we lost no employees, we didn’t lose a dollar,” Samuels told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview on March 5, before the recent raid. “Q4 was the largest quarter in the history of Revolt, and 2023 was the best advertising year we’ve had in the history of Revolt. In all ways it was record-breaking, even in the middle of a crisis.”

In its history, Revolt has produced content in various forms, from the coming-of-age feature film Dope and the award-winning special, REVOLT x Michelle Obama: The Cross-Generational Conversation, to the creation of the annual Revolt Summit and, most recently, a string of successful video podcasts that includes Caresha Please, the N.O.R.E and DJ EFN-hosted Drink Champs, and the Gen Z-centered Black Girl Stuff. The programming speaks to Revolt’s core audience, which is split evenly between men and women in the 18- to 34-year-old age bracket.

Samuels sees Revolt as more than just a Black content platform. “Black culture is global culture,” says the CEO. “We believe that we are the future of digital media, that we are currently, and we will continue to be.”

The obstacles, however, are plenty. In addition to the controversy surrounding Combs and Yung Miami (about whom Samuels declined to answer questions), Revolt is up against a media landscape grappling with mass layoffs, divestment from Black content among some advertisers, a decline in linear cable users as streaming and social media platforms compete for audiences’ already limited attention, and the rise of artificial intelligence. Samuels also did not respond to an email question about reports of a new owner amid Combs’ departure.

Samuels spoke with THR about the future of Revolt without Diddy, betting on content creators and demanding advertisers double down on their investment in Black culture.

How has Diddy stepping down impacted your business internally and externally? Does he still have any level of involvement with the company, and what is the plan for moving forward?

Since [his departure], there’s been no interaction or anything in terms of leading or driving the brand. And in that sense, again, I’m super proud of the team and the brand that we built. We lost no clients, we lost no employees, we didn’t lose a dollar. Q4 was the largest quarter in the history of Revolt, and 2023 was the best advertising year we’ve had in the history of Revolt. In all ways it was record-breaking, even in the middle of a crisis, which is amazing. I’m grateful for this team that stood in the midst of the fire and didn’t crumble, and I’m grateful for those advertisers and brands who stood by us. I think they recognize that if Revolt leaves the Black-owned media ecosystem, that is quite a loss. So whether they spoke to us or they didn’t, behind the scenes, they kept us protected and kept investing in Revolt. The purpose of the company isn’t shifting, regardless of who owns it or who doesn’t own it.

With linear TV having been on the decline for some time now, what’s your strategy for that operation of the business?

You can’t stop what’s happening on the linear side, and our audience is younger, it’s millennials and Gen Z, so they’re going to be on the heavy end of that cord-cutting side. What we’re trying to do is protect the revenue and the audience that’s on that side of the business. It’s really a differentiator for us because when you look at the rest of the Black-owned media landscape, there’s nobody in TV [in this demographic]. There’s Alfred Liggins [at UrbanOne], so that’s going to be [an older demographic] … We’re the only people who are willing to put creators from the culture on TV in the way that we can.

Last year, Revolt Summit became Revolt World. Talk about that expansion, and are you finding events to be a profitable revenue stream?

Have we found events to be profitable? Absolutely. Essentially, they’re profitable because our top customer is advertisers. We have one of the hardest to reach audiences that you can find. Young Black and brown people, 28 years old, you can’t find them. So to provide [advertisers] with an opportunity to connect with that type of an audience in a way that is culturally relevant and helpful to their journey, that’s Revolt World. Yes, we entertain, but so much of it is about information and education to help people get a quantum leap in their lives. So for advertisers to be able to be a part of that type of a platform has turned out to be very valuable for them and very valuable for us, which is why you will continue to see us double down. I only want Revolt World to be two times what it was last year, and last year it grew three times from the year before. We really see it as being the SXSW for Atlanta, or the Essence Festival for Atlanta.

A year ago, you spoke about advertisers backing out of the increased commitments to diversity initiatives that we saw in 2020. Have things gotten better or worse in the past year? How are you withstanding that reality?

When this all happened, the murder of George Floyd, advertisers started betting on Black-owned media and even then, those commitments were so small. I was complaining about the fact that Black-owned media was 1 percent of the market and people were excited about getting us to 2 percent of the market, so from one penny to two pennies. So while there was a ton of energy and momentum that I’m grateful for and that we absolutely got to take advantage of and leverage, you’re talking about two pennies for people who are 14, 15 percent of the market and drive 80 percent of global culture. So we were already starting off in a not-so-great place. My hope was we would get to the end of 2023 and be able to build, but that clearly didn’t happen.

As soon as you start to see affirmative action get taken down, and that was just in the school system, it scared everybody in corporate America. So you could feel that energy and that pain immediately. And then as that happened, you started very quickly seeing the DEI tailwinds becoming headwinds. From a historical standpoint, we’ve seen these patterns before. Black people experience tremendous success, then you experience white rage or the backlash. So that’s the season that we’re in.

And honestly, it’s a scary season. It’s scary because so many of our people feel like the game is being played at a level where we don’t have a ton of power. We don’t have economic, financial or political power. So as they’re unraveling things through policies, those things are changed for decades. So this is absolutely a moment where I’m asking brands to double and triple down on where they were. If you are really about that life, if you love Black culture, then love Black people and invest in Black people and invest in Black media.

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