The Streaming Service Trying to Take Queer Content Global
Revry's "office" in Glendale, California feels an awful lot like off-campus college housing. There's a fireplace that looks like it hasn't seen a flame in decades. There's a slightly tattered leather couch, some pillows featuring Wonder Woman, Star Wars, and Steve Jobs. A copy of the club-kid makeup portrait book Getting Into Face sits the coffee table. The flatscreen on the wall isn't playing Netflix, though. Instead it's cycling through a highlight reel of programs that I've never seen—but wish had been around when I was younger.
The craftsman-style house may be nowhere near a university campus, but Revry is serving up content that's truly educational. Operating under the tagline "Stream. Out. Loud." the service offers up hours upon hours of queer movies and TV to viewers around the world—116 countries total, including China, where even Netflix can't get past censors (at least not directly. "We haven't been blocked yet," says Revry's chief business officer, Christopher Rodriguez, after we settle in to the company's upstairs conference room.
The company's CEO, Damian Pelliccione notes that the company has dozens of hours of queer content in Mandarin; "that’s something we're so proud of," he says, "and is super important to us." Also important: bringing LGBTQ+ programming to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and any number of other countries where homosexuality is shunned—or even outlawed—giving queer people in those regions a chance to see themselves reflected in media in a way they might never have had otherwise.
This wasn't always explicitly Revry's goal. Pelliccione and Rodriguez started the company out of their own Los Angeles home in 2015. The pair, who have been partners for more than a decade, went to an Apple store to fix Rodriguez's cracked iPhone screen, and wound up buying the then-new Apple TV. When set it up, they searched the OS for apps that delivered LGBTQ+ content—but nothing popped up. A former instructor at YouTube Space LA, Pelliccione decided to change that. He gathered Rodriguez, who works as an entertainment attorney, and two friends—Alia Daniels, also a lawyer, and LaShawn McGhee, a film and TV editor—in their Echo Park living room and propose that they all build a streaming service for queer content. Not a single person said "no."
"It was an opportunity to see ourselves truly as a community reflected in the media," Pelliccione says. "We're a cause-driven company. But it wasn't even just seeing an opportunity in the market, it was seeing an opportunity to reach those audiences who have never seen themselves reflected on television."
After that meeting, Daniels left her job at a small startup; Rodriguez finished up a gig providing legal counsel to Shark Tank; McGhee finished the feature she was editing and never looked back. "There was nothing else I'd rather do," McGhee says.
They hired a developer to work on the app and got busy thinking up ideas for marketing, messaging, shows they wanted to make or acquire, and other aspects of the business plan. Less than six months later, in March 2016, they had a version of the app in beta. They officially launched at San Francisco Pride a few months later; each of the cofounders wore a pink company-branded T-shirts, and they all handed out flyers telling people to check out their new streaming service.
Showing authentic representations of queer people has been a concern practically since the dawn of filmed entertainment. Images of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are scant in movies and TV—but so is access to the content that does exist. Revry provides that access. Like Netflix or Amazon, the service is available on laptops as well as phones and streaming devices like Roku. And because it’s now available Hulu-style, supported by ads instead of just subscription fees, viewers who don’t have the means to pay for it (or would just be afraid to have their name and/or credit card information associated with an LGBTQ+ streaming service) can get it more easily than ever.
"They are highly committed to inclusion and creating a space for all voices in the LGBTQ community to be seen and heard," says Jeremy Blacklow, director of entertainment media at GLAAD. "They're off to a great start, and we’re excited to see what they’re able to achieve."
From the start, Revry wanted to create a service that featured programming from a truly diverse lineup of creators and stars, in order to provide queer perspectives beyond the white, cisgender male one. Representations of queer people in media are limited, but so are representations of people of color. And representations of queer people of color are even more meager. A recent study by USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative 1,100 popular films from 2007 to 2017 found that only 31 out of 4,403 characters were lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and of those, nearly 68 percent were white. There was only one transgender character in the top 400 films released between 2014 and 2017. And on TV, it's not much better. Last year, a report by GLAAD found that of the 901 regular characters on broadcast scripted primetime shows, only 58—6.4 percent—were identified as LGBTQ+. In total, there were 329 regular and recurring queer characters on scripted broadcast, cable, and streaming shows, and while that’s an increase from the previous year, the number of queer people of color on broadcast and streaming had fallen.
After Revry's launch, the app got thousands of downloads in more than 50 countries in a matter of weeks. The company's founders attribute much of that to word-of-mouth, but also to having something for everyone. To wit: The 'Other' Love Story, a lesbian web series from India; Before I Got Famous, a Revry original about a 21-year-old who moves from China to Hollywood to make it as an actor; or FML, a "comedic web series about five millennial friends of color navigating the bullshit called life." There are also programs like Queens of Kings, a docu-series about drag queens in Brooklyn that includes RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 winner Aquaria and will likely appeal to fans of VH1's wildly popular show.
Since launch, Revry has expanded into projects like streaming the Trevor Project's TrevorLive event, and launching a series of podcasts, including a chat show show from YouTuber Foxy (aka Jade) called Do Not Disturb and Butch and the Bear with comedian and "Professional Lesbian" AB Cassidy and Daniel Franzese, aka Damian in Mean Girls. (The company's Glendale lot includes a studio where podcasters can record onsite.)
Revry's broad reach has elicited letters from all over the world. One user from Saudi Arabia found Pelliccione on LinkedIn to thank him for the app. "I never new [sic] gay films existed before. I did not know there were other people like me in the world," they wrote. Another letter from a 22-year-old in Iraq detailed the viewer's low income, adding "I cannot live and I am persecuted and every day I think of a suicide."
The impact the service was having led Revry’s cofounders to move from a subscription model to a more ad-supported one. Previously, viewers would only be able to watch Revry by shelling out $6.99 per month for a subscription ($4.99 per month for those who opted to get a whole year at a time). Now, if they’re willing to watch a few commercials, they can stream the service for free, no login required. (Folks who want to opt out of ads can still subscribe, of course.) The point, essentially, is to not only host a diverse range of stories, but also to deliver them to as many people as possible.
"We always wanted Revry to appeal to the younger generation and the global community of LGBTQ people," says Rodriguez. "Initially it was only by necessity that we went with the subscription model. But now that we've grown and developed we were kind of able to actualize this initial inclination to be able to offer our content all over the world for free."
For Revry's biggest advertiser, Lexus, the streaming service provided a way to reach groups that weren’t as accessible through something like Hulu or traditional TV, save for networks like Bravo. "When you start to look at segments like LGBTQ, there is no way of targeting that audience through what largely is more mainstream-oriented platforms," says Albert Thompson, the managing director of digital for the ad agency Walton Isaacson, which arranged the Lexus deal. "So Revry's idea of Hey, we're going to aggregate it, create it for what's ultimately going to be a global audience that’s US-led, that's outstanding."
Thinking about LGBTQ+ communities as just another demographic, just another group to pander, to can feel, well, gross. Like the "rainbow-washing" that happens every year around Pride festivities, it can easily be chalked up to big corporations seeing an untapped consumer base. But when the result is funding content that normally would never make it to the eyeballs of its core audience, it’s hard to remain cynical for too long.
"I take for granted a lot of the time that I live in a culture and place where I can be who I am regardless of the label I give myself or the color of my skin," says McGhee, leaning over Revry's conference table. "But there are so many places, even in the United States, especially under this administration, [where that's not true] and we have to be a part of this content renaissance that’s happening and say 'We're here, we're queer,' but more than that, 'We're everywhere.'"