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Dennis Dortch


Dennis Dortch: The Filmmaker Working as an Influencer and Hiring Influencers

Dennis Dortch: Social media engagement is not about inorganic marketing. Rather, it’s about energy and interest. A creator may have millions of followers but very low engagement and very little impact on their followers’ content-watching decisions.

Dennis Dortch started off as an independent filmmaker and had his first feature film premier at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival.

“It was called a ‘Good Day to be Black and Sexy’ which is where Black & Sexy TV was sprung from. My background before that was music. I thought I was going to be a record label head and artists’ producer. I went to college and I kind of discovered film. And I changed my major from recording arts.”

Black & Sexy TV

He saw a market gap and the opportunity as early as 2008.

“In 2008-2009, when I released my movie, I felt like these are people who want to see this movie but are not getting this content anywhere else. It made me start thinking how I can skip over distribution and Hollywood and go direct to my audience.”

He cites Netflix as an important influence for Black & Sexy TV.

“Netflix was starting to try to transition from DVD to streaming and they needed content. So they were taking a lot of independent films and mine was one of them. It did really well on the platform and it stayed for the whole seven years which became a funnel for us to be discovered.”

Still he did not think his type of content was being treated right.

“We decided after having these opportunities of having an audience funnel for Netflix, being seen on Showtime, but having this movie but having this movie that didn’t get treated right, I thought ‘let’s go direct to the audience’.”

Dennis Dortch
@blackandsexytv on Instagram

Founded in 2012, Black & Sexy TV network is a direct to consumer venture Dennis started for the content he creates.

“The vision is to show black people more authentically globally but especially in the United States in a way that we’re not typically seen. Imagine Motown meets Pixar meets Netflix. We’re making content in-house and we distribute it directly to the audience without any interference or permission from other people.”

Dennis recognizes that as far as representation of the black community in film goes, things have gotten better overall though there is still work to do. 

“We were one of the first to really feature a starring brown skin, dark skinned black woman. She wasn’t like the maid or something. TV is now starting to super serve strong black leads in Netflix and more black people in various hairstyles, colors and shades.”

Sitting on Both Ends of the Influencer Marketing Space

As far as influencer marketing goes, Black & Sexy TV sits on three sides of the table. 

Black & Sexy TV as an Influencer

Black & Sexy TV became an influencer almost by accident, Dennis says. The business didn’t actively seek out the work. Brands came calling.

“It was because we had a voice, audience, a very strong social presence and a very specific viewpoint, companies like Lionsgate came to us to promote some of their movies. Put it on our social channels, integrated into some of our shows. And then there were a couple of companies especially beauty and health that aligned with our 70 percent black woman demographic. So they approached us.”

Black & Sexy TV as a Brand Tapping into Influencers

Black & Sexy TV is enlisting influencers as actors or inviting influencers to promote its own business and products, Dennis says.

“We hired one to do an after show and that KPI was pretty good. She was already a fan and it really aligned with what we did anyways.”

He’s found some influencers can be expensive and others have weak worth ethic. 

“We had a couple of influencers in some of our shows who had a million or more following. A lot of times, they have a certain price and want to be paid for it. Which is fine. And this was a few years ago. Now things have changed and it’s actually very expensive depending on who you are talking to. In my experience, I haven’t gotten the work ethic that I thought would be there. I think people are willing to take your money but not always willing to put the work in.”

Black & Sexy TV as a Builder of Influencers

Dennis sees his network as creating new influencers by default.

“For actors who are not influencers, we typically build them up to become influencers because they have an audience and now they are able to get their social media game up.”

He remembers particular actors that Black & Sexy TV became a stepping stone for their acting and influencer career. 

“Issa Rae was already a star but that was one of our early partners. Lena Waithe’s first show was on our network. Javicia Leslie who is the first black bat woman on CW, her first starring role was on our channel. So we have created and helped create people in our social profiles. And we’re trying to figure out how to capture more of that value now and keep them. We’re not going to keep them forever because they are trying to get to Hollywood. But there’s more value to be extracted out of that relationship because we started to think they’re more than just actors. They are influencers. We have had Javicia specifically host a couple of things for us including an award show.” 

Learning Points from Working with Influencers

Dennis sees brand and product awareness as the main benefit of working with influencers.

“Everybody’s goal is exposure and get conversions. So I think awareness is probably the biggest thing that I will attach to it”

He urges businesses to always keep an eye on the rate of return when choosing influencers to work with. 

“You don’t want to spend money or waste time on something that’s not really aligned.”

Influencers with a large following don’t always deliver commensurate returns.

“Ultimately, people are lazy or ‘trying to keep their job’. They say ‘I did everything right’. They have millions of followers but very few translate really well. The Kardashians are one. They just translate well across the board. And then you have a couple more tiers below them. I think people are looking for a plug without doing the work. And there’s really no plug. Social media is not about marketing. It’s all about energy and interest.”

Dennis Dortch and his son

He sees micro influencers as sometimes representing a better return than creators with larger following.

“Micro influencers may not have a huge following. Maybe 30,000 or 40,000 followers. But they may have great interactions and engagement rates.” 

Working with influences has not resulted in a noticeable effect to Black & Sexy TV’s viewership or conversion. Dennis sees this as being a challenge that affects the broader regular TV and film industry.

“Just because you have a lot of following online doesn’t mean they’re going to follow you to TV if it’s not in their habit to do so. I know of a particular show that has an influencer on it but you can see the influencer’s audience is all Gen-Z and Millennials who don’t have cable or regular TV. But this channel is on TV. You’re not going to make me go and get a subscription to this channel or get cable to go watch this thing. So even if I was interested, there’s too many barriers to get there.”

People that follow a particular social media influencer do not necessarily like everything the influencer does.

“It’s very specific what they like about them. They may not like them in another role.”

Future Plans for Dennis Dortch

Black & Sexy TV is looking to expand organically but do that while remaining within its niche of black community and culture.

“So Afro Latina makes sense. Anything that’s still connected to black culture. There’s power in being niche. We don’t have enough budget to be everything to everybody. So we need to be where no one else is really thinking of doing and do it really well.”

The next iteration is to extend Black & Sexy TV into a lifestyle company.

“That’s not just about watching content but really living the black and sexy lifestyle. People of color typically get overlooked when it comes down to how we spend our money, how brands talk to us. What they offer is not always something that makes sense or aligns with who we are. So that’s where I think there’s really no competition there right now. We already have an audience. What more can you do with that audience?”

It is a means of keeping users within its network.

“People can experience the black and sexy lifestyle in multiple ways. Whether it’s dating, traveling, gaming, unscripted shows, scripted shows, all of that. Where everything is in one universe and you just plug in. We don’t want you to leave but if you leave, we want you to come back.”

With the company’s 10-year anniversary coming up in Feb 2022, Dennis asks fans to look out for content that will mark the important milestone.

Dennis Dortch is founder of Black & Sexy TV. He is a streamer, writer and director. The network runs special footage, exclusive movies and exclusive series reflective of modern relationships and sexuality in the black community. Dennis has a degree in film production from Loyola Marymount University. He lives in Los Angeles, California. The business’s handle on social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) is @blackandsexytv.

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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