By Evan DeSimone
Leigh Davenport is always looking toward the future. A born storyteller and early adopter, Davenport shifted away form a career in traditional television production to embrace the possibilities offered by new media and online video. Currently, she serves as editorial director for HelloBeautiful.com. the women’s lifestyle vertical for black and Latino-targeting digital platform InteractiveOne, as well as VP in charge of programming for the site’s growing online video arm, HB Studios.
Leigh shared some of her big plans for the future of HB Studios, as well as insights into how she sees the new media landscape changing for women of color, both in front and behind the camera.
How did you initially get involved in digital video?
I started my career in television production at the time when digital video was mostly a “nice to have.” From early on, I was very intrigued by what the future of video would be online and passionate about creating video for that space. There was something intriguing back then about the idea of breaking the rules of traditional video production and making video content without the restrictions of commercial TV.
What was the inspiration for launching HB Studios, and what served as the tipping point for actually getting it going?
HelloBeautiful has always created video content for the site, but the idea of creating an actual programming slate was driven by a gap in the space. Black women are craving smart, interesting and intelligent video content. I wanted to put together an offering that touched our audience at multiple passion points. I think the tipping point came when I became a maniac about it and kept bringing up the idea to my boss. Also, we had gained so much respect and access points to talent, it was time to put it to good use.
What’s the overall content objective/strategy for HB Studios?
The strategy is to create high quality original online video content that will be distributed across multiple platforms. We don’t believe the video has to live only on our site — we want content to be anywhere and everywhere our audience lives.
How will the content HB Studios releases look similar to what’s already offered on sites like HelloBeautiful, UrbanDaily and NewsOne Now?
It won’t necessarily look so similar. It will reflect the passion points of our audience. However, overall I think it’s a new frontier for the HelloBeautiful brand.
In attempting to fill this void in content targeting black women, what are some of the most important things to think about in terms how the content will look and what messages it may or may not send? In other words, will HB Studios continue with powerful content like the “Women on Top” series, or will it aim to fill all kinds of entertainment categories, including the mindless, fun kind?
Our goal at HelloBeautiful is to always exist in multiple categories. Our brand “beliefs” focus on addressing the multifaceted woman. We know that women can be both politically motivated and socially conscious and still watch reality TV. We like to indulge her in all of those places. The HB Studios slate contains topics that are heavier and a lot of fun stuff as well. It’s everything from DIY beauty videos to our docuseries on The Dance Theater of Harlem.
What are some of the bigger projects on HB Studios’ horizon?
We’re extremely excited about our series featuring the current Dance Theater of Harlem company. It’s so fascinating exploring the world of ballet and the art form is experiencing a popularity surge at the moment. We’re also excited about Remember The Time — our Black women in music pop-culture retrospective and “Becoming Queen” our docuseries on Howard University’s Miss Howard Pageant.
What would your dream web series to come out of HB Studios look like?
I can’t wait until we can produce a full scripted series. That would be the ultimate dream, to create something fun and witty with original characters and new actors. That’s definitely the goal.
Do you think the digital video landscape is changing at all in terms of representing more black talent (both behind and in front of the camera)? Please explain.
I think Black talent are creating opportunities for themselves in the digital space in a very exciting way. You’ve got everything Issa Rae is doing, Black & Sexy TV, dozens of YouTube series and films. It’s an awesome time to be a content maker because the barrier to entry is so low. The next horizon: how to make content and make a living. It’s hard to create amazing work when you’re worried about paying the bills.