Kweli.tv aims to be the go-to streaming media platform for black filmmakers all over the world to share their content and make money from its distribution. KweliTV handpicks all of its content, with 98 percent of the content having been official selections at film festivals worldwide. “There are a lot of really great filmmakers out there globally,” KweliTV founder DeShuna Spencer told me. “For us, we’re offering an avenue for filmmakers of color to make money off of their work and be celebrated for the work they do.” Perhaps, more importantly, KweliTV wants to be a source of authentic storytelling of the black community from the black perspective. A recent study showed the mainstream media (news and opinion media) offers a consistently warped view of black people and black families. For example, black families represent 59 percent of the poor in mainstream media even though they make up just 27 percent of low-income people, according to Color of Change. Meanwhile, white families make up just 17 percent of low-income people while they officially represent 66 percent of the country’s low-income population.
Kweli, which means “truth” in Swahili, aims to tell all sides of the black experience. In order for content to be featured on KweliTV, the the main character needs to be of African descent and “not the sidekick, the friend of the fairy godmother,” KweliTV founder DeShuna Spencer told me. “The black person has to be the main character.” An example of some KweliTV content is a film called Something Necessary. Created by Kenyan filmmaker Judy Kibinge, Something Necessary explores life after the civil unrest in Kenya following the 2007 elections through the eyes of a woman named Anne. In 2013, the film was nominated for audience choice award at the Chicago International Film Festival and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.
There are currently 200 titles on the platform, with KweliTV adding about three titles a week in the categories of documentary, shorts and full-length features. Subscribers can watch KweliTV on the web or via Roku, Apple TV or Google Play. Unlike Netflix, the goal is not to have an endless library of content. Instead. KweliTV wants to keep it intimate with no more than 500 titles at a time. KweliTV, which launched out of beta just a few months ago, currently has 2,000 paying subscribers. By the end of the year, the goal is to hit 30,000 paid subscribers. An annual membership costs $49.99/year and a monthly one costs $5.99. As a value-add to the streaming content, KweliTV partners with other black-owned businesses to offer discounts and other perks to its subscribers. Subscribers can access discounts at companies like Heritage Box, Black Card Revoked, African Ancestry and others. On the creator side, filmmakers get paid based on how many minutes people spend viewing their content. More specifically, 60 percent of Kweli.TV’s revenue goes to filmmakers, who get paid quarterly. In alignment with Spencer’s desire to keep it intimate, KweliTV is going to start hosting in-person events for its members to connect with each other. The first event will be next month. “We really see Kweli as being a community more than a streaming service,” Spencer said. “Our customers are asking us to be more community-oriented.” KweliTV is a bootstrapped company in the traditional sense, meaning it hasn’t raised funding from any angel investors or VCs. The company has, however, won $65,000 from a couple of startup competitions. “It’s a full-time job to raise money,” Spencer said. “That’s not to say we’ll never raise but today, my focus is on revenue.” One of KweliTV’s competitors, Afrostream, shut down last August, despite raising $4 million in capital. Spencer pointed to Afrostream as a bit of a cautionary tale of trying to grow too quickly. Instead of becoming a unicorn, Spencer sees her company as a zebra. Unlike unicorns, zebras a profitable and work to improve society, and KweliTV is achieving both of those requirements.