Digital TV network Kin was made for the era of self-isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic has the entertainment industry in a stranglehold.

With widespread self-isolation mandates, film and TV studios have halted productions, delayed releases, or pushed them to streaming services ahead of schedule. It’s difficult to estimate COVID-19’s full impact within the industry, but analysts have projected upward of $20 billion in losses.

Some studios and producers have been experimenting with workarounds for shooting and editing, but digital lifestyle network Kin has been ahead of the curve. In fact, while most production is at a standstill, Kin is set to launch five new shows in the next two months, some of which are currently filming in self-isolation.

Kin’s model revolves around developing celebrity-driven lifestyle programming shot mainly from their homes, with many episodes already incorporating self-shot material.

“But as we’ve hit quarantine, we started to train some of our talent to do more,” says Kin cofounder and CEO Michael Wayne. “We’ve evolved the self-shot model.”

The timing could not be more perfect.

The evolution of Kin

In 2007, Wayne cofounded Kin’s forerunner, the entertainment studio Digital Entertainment Company of America (DECA). As a former Sony Pictures exec, Wayne was interested in how the internet would impact the entertainment business from production and distribution to what types of talent would emerge.

“We knew all of that was going to change,” Wayne says. “But one fundamental thing, which has continued to this day, is we felt that if talent was going to have a direct relationship with their fans, you needed to create different [business] models.”

In the DECA days, that meant creating digital shows built around famous blogs and bloggers. There was BoingBoingTV, based on the tech culture destination. Momversation culled noted mommy bloggers to talk about a variety of parenting-related issues. Good Bite featured top food bloggers creating new recipes. DECA would send talent equipment to shoot themselves, edit the footage in-house, and post on dedicated websites and/or the blogs themselves. Around 2010, YouTube approached DECA to create a new channel as a part of its $100 million push for original programming that included partnerships with the likes of Jay Z, Madonna, and Shaquille O’Neal—and thus Kin was formed.

Kin shifted from featuring bloggers to developing their own talent and soon evolved into a multi-channel network with around 150 creators aggregated by the company.

[Adrienne Houghton, host of All Things Adrienne. Photo: courtesy of Kin]

“We realized we were moving further away from being a content creator and more into being kind of a social influencer marketing company or talent agency,” Wayne says. “It wasn’t really part of our mission.”

Wayne recalibrated Kin’s mission when, in 2017, he got a call from the agent for Tia Mowry (Sister, Sister), who asked Wayne if he was interested in working with a more traditional TV celebrity. Wayne admits that he was hesitant at first, but the more he thought about Mowry’s cross-generational appeal—not to mention her sizable social media following—the idea for Kin as it is today clicked into place.

“YouTube has democratized content creation. But as the content has become more and more professional, it requires more people. If you’re a talent who’s been on TV for 20 years, you’re probably not going to pick up a camera and start shooting in your kitchen by yourself,” Wayne says. “So we realized this could be an interesting opportunity to evolve our model again where we work with traditional talent and do all the heavy lifting and they [lend] their talents and their social media audience.”

Kin’s current programming slate, which is distributed across YouTube and Facebook, includes Tia Mowry’s Quick Fix (200 million views across multiple platforms), and All Things Adrienne (100 million views) and Hello Hunnay (75 million views) with The Real co-hosts Adrienne Houghton and Jeannie Mai, respectively. Kin funds all the programming (handling marketing, analytics, distribution, and so forth) and is a 50-50 partner with the talent, pulling in revenue from Google AdSense, affiliate links, brand deals, and, interestingly enough, TV.

Kin struck one such deal last year with Cleo TV, the TV One-owned cable network that targets millennial women of color, to license existing episodes of All Things Adrienne and Heart of the Batter with Jordin Sparks. The episodes still exist on YouTube and Facebook, but are re-edited into a half-hour format.

“It used to be you’d create TV shows and then figure out how to exploit them online. We’ve turned it upside down,” Wayne says. “We know how to create profitable shows across social platforms and then reformat them to TV in a marketplace that’s looking for more efficient or more economical content every day.”

The current question is how to turn content around in the middle of a pandemic.

Welcome to Kin University

Around six months ago, Kin’s shows began to incorporate on-the-go shoots, where a small team would accompany talent somewhere outside of their home, as well as self-shot footage taken by the talent using production equipment (lights, mic, etc.) provided by Kin.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Kin is moving entirely into self-shot productions and has created Kin University, an online resource for talent explaining best practices for shooting video, capturing audio, transferring files, and more.

“We’ve taken it to the next level during the quarantine to get our talent comfortable shooting at home by themselves,” Wayne says.

Among Kin’s new slate of programming that’s currently being filmed in isolation is actor Karrueche Tran’s Just a Sip and Bachelorette and entrepreneur Kaitlyn Bristowe’s Nine to Wine, who says she viewed the opportunity with Kin as a way to showcase her personal life in a new light.

[Kaitlyn Bristowe, host of Nine to Wine. Photo: courtesy of Kin]

“I’ve been approached a lot to do reality shows, mostly about relationships,” Bristowe says. “What I loved about Kin is they let me have full creative control. We can go into the business side of things, and it can entertain people and inspire people. Kin believed in whatever vision I had and they’re there to help me along that journey.”

Even when that journey means shooting a brand-new show in self-isolation.

“I am clueless when it comes to this kind of stuff,” Bristowe says. “I’m having to mic myself and set up my own lighting and cameras. I literally have no idea what I’m doing.”

That said, Bristowe says the team at Kin has been quick to hop on a call or video chat to answer any questions.

“I would rather have a production crew here, but I’ve got a producer on standby at all times to help me out,” Bristowe says.

For Adrienne Houghton, host of All Things Adrienne, production before COVID-19 meant carving out two days a month to film a total of eight episodes. The show will keep its same output—except Houghton’s husband has taken over as the film crew.

“I’m actually finding this wildly fun,” Houghton says. “I’ve shared with my audience that my ultimate dream is also to direct a film.”

Houghton likened the experience to Beyoncé’s self-directed 2013 doc Life is but a Dream.

“There’s something about that that as a fan makes me want to watch it even more because it feels personal,” Houghton says, which, in many ways has always been the point of Kin filming inside talents’ homes: to create serviceable lifestyle content that actually taps in the personal lives of these celebrities.

“It’s given people a different perspective of me,” Houghton says of All Things Adrienne. “My assistant kept telling me, ‘I like you so much better on your YouTube channel than your other projects, because you’re just more like you.’”

To be sure, Kin is lucky in the sense that its shows were already being shot in the homes of the talent with which it works. But the friction of switching entirely to self-shot footage during the COVID-19 pandemic has been largely mitigated by Kin’s empowering its stars with the necessary resources like Kin University.

“I think everyone’s looking for creative outlets,” Wayne says. “We continue to [sign new] talent because we feel like our self-shot production model can really work during the quarantine. It’s equal parts lifestyle and behind-the-scenes of their lives. I think audiences are looking for that.”

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