For good or ill, we're being bombarded with information at a lightning pace; the "24 hour news cycle" is very real. The problem? Most news outlets and organizations either don't speak to YOU or don't have YOU behind the scenes, making sure that your community and its voice are being properly echoed where they're needed most. That's where Fox Soul, Fox TV's first OTT ("over-the-top," aka being delivered directly to viewers via the internets), ad-sponsored (read: free!) streaming service dedicated to the African American community comes in.
Fox Soul, which currently airs weekdays live from 6PM to 10PM (PST), is a focused mix of talk shows diving deep into topics within the community (with both experts and celebrities), live music and comedy performances, and celebrity news that speaks to African-American life on a day-to-day basis. With stars like Keyshia Cole and Claudia Jordan featured regularly alongside everyone from Da Brat to Lisa Evers, it's a mix of star power and real talk that you're not getting anywhere else, and it's all been spearheaded by Fox Soul Head of Programming and Executive Producer James DuBose. DuBose is an industry vet, with a string of reality TV hits (Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is, Run's House, Tiny & Toya, The Michael Vick Project, just to name a few) under his belt.
With word of Fox Soul hitting the timeline leading to questions about what exactly a Fox-born black streaming channel actually is, DuBose hopped on the phone to talk about this venture, from its inception to his plans for its future. If it's happening in our culture, it'll be happening on Fox Soul. All you have to do is tune in.
Talk about the ideation and creation of Fox Soul.
I was, at the time, the executive producer of Dish Nation. Around March 2019, Steven Brown, who's the executive vice president of program development at Fox television stations, discusses that they were looking into trying to build an OTT channel focused on the African American community and what my thoughts were. After having a lot of dialogue back and forth on some things that I wanted to make sure were important, we started to just develop the content for a test. We did a test run in June; four hours in the morning, some morning show types. Our show that we did four hours at the evening show we currently do. It really tested well.
What Fox Soul turned into reminds me of a lot of the local programming I used to watch growing up. Was the vision for it to have a variety of shows alongside more hard-hitting talk show topics?
In the beginning, my real thought was the fact that I wanted to celebrate the totality of the black experience. We're more than just sports and entertainment. I set out to say, "Listen, if we're going to do this, we have to do it about all of us, the totality of who we are." We're up, we're down, we're survivors, we're winners. We laugh, we cry, we dance, we sing. So if you see some of the content that we currently have, we are still beginning to build this thing. Hopefully it encompasses all of that. The idea was, whatever it is, however, we want to take the deeper dive and not just broadcast content, but to build a community where we feel safe to have conversations about things that we normally would only talk about in the privacy of our own homes. We wanted to be a place where you [can] speak from your soul to our soul, we speak to your soul. And that really is the essence of it. We wanted our rhythm and blues culture. We wanted to celebrate our rhythm, but also celebrate our blues. And that's what our hard-hitting content comes from. And then you also see the celebration of it. That was always the method of what I felt like was going to differentiate us from all the other streaming platform that was out there, but also content that wasn't just regurgitating things that you've seen on broadcast and so forth. This is original and this was real talking; this is conversation that maybe you and your best friends or family members would have which you would never be comfortable to say on any other platform. We want to make sure Fox Soul provides that, that you could really be comfortable to talk about things that are really on your heart.
It kind of speaks to one of the things that's stuck out to me most when I first read about what you guys were doing, was the fact that you have a phone number, you're asking people to call in and tweet. There's a live chat going on during the YouTube live stream. How important is that live, real-time feedback and real-time discussion for you while also producing this block of content for people?
The live interactive part is to really make a point because if we're saying Fox Soul is where our voice, our truth lives, you can't really say that if you don't allow the community to have a real voice. So to be able to call in, be able to live comment and recognize that we're talking back to you immediately, is everything that we talked about.
We have had a lot of content about mental health, for instance. And there are people that can't or maybe don't have the ability to go sit on a couch right now for the money, what have you or whatever it may be. We're bringing a professional, we're bringing the stories, but we also hopefully will be able to help you do what we're doing. You can call in, you get any question that you have through this live interactive process. So that is the key to Fox Soul and that is what we're pushing every day. And that's to me how you build a community.
While the official announcement for Fox Soul happened fairly recently, I was going through the YouTube page and there's content on there going back for a whole month. Was that a soft run?
We actually started October 14, and it was like a beta run. This is a startup. This is not something that was happening and we were just coming in and changing a few things. This is like a startup business that we started from scratch. The good people at Fox blessed us with the opportunity to be able to see what work, what's not working, what do people responding to or not. And so once we felt like it was ready, that's when the big push came to be. And now we're still growing, we're still doing things, but that was the idea behind it.
I will say, it was kind of confusing because when I heard first that Fox was having a streaming service specifically for the black audience; just seeing that headline, the thought was, with streaming services being so big on their own IP, it's, "Oh, am I going to get episodes of Martin? Am I going to get Living Single"? These classic shows that Fox used to put on. And it's dope to see that it's the reverse of that. It is literally like a live channel with so many personalities—growing up on the East Coast, Lisa Evers is a legend in terms of what she's done with her platform, for example. Is it difficult to pull off this block of programming nightly with so many moving parts?
I'm glad you asked that. I'ma really put it in perspective. In less than four months, I've done over 200 hours of live programming...
...and we're just getting going. So to do that every day, we're doing 20 hours of live programming. Not just one show. We're not doing one show that comes on every day. We're doing four live shows that come on every day. And then two shows that the Fox affiliate station that you mentioned sends us that we air. To do that and then to also try to separate the show so it doesn't seem like one continuous long four-hour show, that's where the different personalities come from.
What you would consider some of your personal highlights from what you guys have done so far?
We had an episode of One On One with Keyshia Cole with Tiffany Haddish and Jason Lee. They all had that one thing in common:they all come from the foster home system. To have people like a Tiffany Haddish and a Jason Lee and Keyshia to come on the show, a new platform like Fox Soul, and open up about that, so that they get we're here to entertain, educate and inspire, as we said. That is a highlight. On Dr. Sean's show, we had an adoption episode where people are explaining what that really feels like beyond just being adopted, wanting to know my biological parents and so forth. We have great musical guests, but I really love when we go deeper and we find a way to come out of the dogmas, if you will, through Fox Soul. Those are the type of shows for me personally have been my highlights. We've had Tony Rock on, we had Nick Cannon come on. I'm not saying these for the celebrity aspect of it, I'm saying that they've come on and talked about things beyond their celebrity if you will.
I was going over your history within the industry. You've been involved in a lot, including shows like Run's House, Being Bobby Brown, and Keyshia Cole's reality show. I have to wonder, what's more difficult, starting up and working on Fox Soul or working on some of these unscripted reality shows?
To be honest, man, [Fox Soul] is the most challenging thing I've had in my career. I prayed for this, so I'm not complaining about it. I asked for this. I've been praying for this since I've been doing Keyshia Cole and all those shows that you mentioned, because I love us. To be honest with you, the reality shows gave me a real insight into the lives of people. The good, the bad, the ups and downs, even my own life. And I just felt like you only see a part of us on other platforms. I just prayed for an opportunity to show the totality of us. And that to me has been the challenge to make sure people see us as who we are and accept us as who we are, but also give us a platform that we can speak and have our narrative without somebody telling us what we can and can't say and water it down.
With the announcement, it was mentioned that in conjunction with your website, Fox Soul is on YouTube, Apple TV, and other platforms. What's the plan for Fox Soul? How long do you envision it being a 20 hour a week thing? Or is there a plan to have a Fox Soul channel at some point down the line?
Well, we want to live on the streaming platform. We think that's where we're able to, again, if we were to go, if I'm understanding you correctly, to a broadcast sort of situation and they would take away everything that we're doing. They would take away everything that we could be, unfiltered and raw and uncut, if you will, and they wouldn't tell our stories.
We have to expand. Eventually, we have to be in 15 hours hopefully within six months, and then eventually 24 hours. And with that said, it can't all be live talk. We're looking for programming that fits what the mission of what Fox Soul is. We are currently right now looking at programs that people are pitching and sending that that they have that hasn't been seen anywhere else. As we expand, we're definitely looking into that and we will be a 24-hour channel that will remain on the OTT platform. Which I think is incredible because, again, the live interactive part is very important.
I think the other part that makes it awesome is the fact that anybody can get this. Certain parts of entertainment there feels like there's a barrier of entry. A lot of time it's whether it's you need to have a certain type of internet device or you need to pay to get that type of service. You're envisioning it to always be free?
That's the vision moving forward. We don't really anticipate becoming a subscription service. That's the difference. This model is what we thought was the best method to provide what we really wanted to provide. And I love it because honestly doing TV to a streaming platform, you don't have to wait every Tuesday or every Wednesday or whenever your favorite show comes on to watch it. And we're giving you something new every day. You may be going through something that day that you need to hear this. And so that to me, it gives us the flexibility to be as creative as we want to be.
How do things work at Fox Soul when there's breaking news in the black community? With things like the upcoming presidential election, will there be coverage of the elections going on on Fox Soul like they would on more news-oriented outlets?
So two things to that. The first answer is, absolutely. The beauty of it is we don't have to stick to it's an hour, it's a half-hour. If a show is going really well and interactive and the live element is really helping people, we can go for an hour and a half. If something happens in our community, we can stop whatever we're doing and focus on that. That's the beauty of the OTT. That's the beauty of it. So absolutely.
For the political thing, 100%. We actually just closed a deal with a political correspondent; she will be on at every debate moving forward, every caucus. She'll let everyone know when they need to have the voter registration. When everything is happening, we want Fox Soul to be the place, especially in the black community, because we feel like we're going to control this 2020 election. Everything about politics will be on Fox Soul.
Finally, just a health and wellness check, if this has been going on strong since October and you've been doing it, ideating it out before then, how are you doing?
I don't really know quite, honestly. I'm tired. I'm tired. But again, someone told me the other day: "You can't complain that your plate is full when you've been praying to eat."
Facts. That's facts.
But also, honestly, this is so important to me. I feel like in my career at this point, this will be my legacy. This is so important to me. So when I was saying I'm tired, I'm a good tired. I'm so focused on this. I'm so single-minded about Fox Soul. When I'm dead and gone, I really want people like yourself to really say this made such an impact that it will go on forever. That's my goal. That's my mission. So I don't mind being tired because I'm working towards some that I think is much, much bigger than myself, much bigger than us.