“Men understand the business model, but women really got the mission,” Wendy Sweetmore, founder and CEO of NetworkBe, told me of her decision to solely solicit funding from female investors for her startup media brand.
Being a millennial-aged male with a business degree, I quickly began to ruminate: perhaps I’d never be able to fully comprehend the raison d'être of NetworkBe. I’m clearly not part of its intended audience— “Sandwich Generation” women, aged 28 to 55, whose double duty is split between raising their own kids and caring for their parents— nor do I have immediate family members or a significant other who fit such a demographic.
Yet, I have always been wildly passionate about innovative ideas, a probing interest that ultimately led me to major in Entrepreneurship at LMU.
Sweetmore, a former senior executive at MGM Television, surely has a bit of flair for storytelling, I thought. The least I could do was listen, and write a piece about what I heard.
As much skepticism as I initially harbored, I soon began to see the value in NetworkBe’s offerings.
First of all, the platform— which consists of a handful of themed video channels, along with an integrated social network— will be completely free when it launches to the general public later this month.
Paid premium plans may be added eventually, Sweetmore informed me, but for now the platform’s revenue model will rely completely on brand integration and sponsored content.
The alternative— those pesky half-minute commercials played prior to a video, referred to in the industry as “pre-roll ads”— was an unequivocal no-go.
Women lead busy lives, thus, “watching a 30-second ad for a two-minute video is torture,” Sweetmore explained.
While developing its platform, NetworkBe used proprietary data on the lifestyle and habits of its target audience to guide its creative decisions. One outcome from this data crunching was a focus on short, “snackable” series, no longer than two-to-three minutes in length.
As for another main value proposition— integrating social media-like features into a video entertainment platform— I was initially unsure as to why it was considered essential. Sweetmore’s rationale, however, was both cogent and lucid.
Citing the roundtable panels that follow airings of hit TV shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” Sweetmore believes the link between viewing and discussing a show is inextricable.
While it may sound cliche, a sense of community also has the ability to help anyone, with virtually any problem, find comfort and like-minded voices.
The paragon of NetworkBe’s collaborative spirit is its “Be You” channel, which will put the audience in the director’s seat of a given show after a few episodes.
One series expected to air, titled “A.I. & Me,” will document some of the funniest and most outlandish questions posed to digital assistants, such as Alexa and Siri.
As for growth, the startup expects to be a full-service over-the-top (OTT) content provider by sometime next year, while also experimenting with eight-to-12-minute-long episodes.
Thus far, NetworkBe’s crowning achievement has been its ability to attract a number of high-profile ambassadors and investors, including Amanda Crew, who appears on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” and Alison Sweeney, perhaps best known for her role on soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
Despite the operation’s female-dominance— the sole male on staff, Sean DeVries, ironically produced “The Bachelor”— Sweetmore was quick to dismiss the notion that NetworkBe has any sympathies for the feminist movement.
Rather than a serving as a platform for venting and baiting, Sweetmore hopes the site fosters an ethos of community and constructive conversation.
Change comes through solidarity, Sweetmore affirmed, and we, as society, have struggled to recognize the many “amazing people doing wonderful things in this world, who we don’t [even] know how to discover in one place.”
Although I was no longer dubious, for good measure, I got further reassurance regarding my initial concerns.
“We welcome all audiences, especially men, who want to better understand women,” Sweetmore said.
Considering how enigmatic many men find women to be, maybe watching a few episodes in their shoes could bring us males some much-needed clarity.