Black Experience for Xfinity

Some of you may be aware that at the end of 2018 Sky was bought, in full, by Comcast in the US.  Over the past two years we’ve been collectively figuring out what that means in terms of a working relationship and we’re now starting to lock it down.  In 2019, Sky and Comcast worked together on the wildly successful Project Elliot.  A Christmas ad campaign that literally owned the Christmas advert market for that year.  Fast forward a year, and we’ve collaborated on a project that has wider reach and more meaning than anything we could have imagined.  And we thought it was worth telling the story.  During lockdown, in the midst of the worst pandemic the world has seen since the Spanish flu, and off the back of the atrocities that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, we embarked on creating a US channel brand with our partners in Comcast, and it was an incredible journey.


Black Experience was a channel born out of the reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.  It’s intention; to be a staging post, a call to action to celebrate black content, a channel to be a representation of black voices.


Launched deliberately around Black History Month the team immediately started thinking about that concept: Black History MONTH!  Why is it a month?  It shouldn’t be one month, it should be every month.  So we crossed out month and replaced it with 24/7, which turned out to be a brilliant starting point for the overall attitude of the brand.  The “BE” part, an abbreviation of Black Experience, really came out of the ambition for the channel to stand for something and speak for a community of people. As a channel, it could stand for something, have an effect in the wider community and be a rallying point for culture and film makers.  At the time, we referenced black music as a comparison point because it is so well known and represented in history and wider culture but it’s very hard to talk about black film and TV in the same regard.  It doesn’t have the same cultural depth as music and we felt that for the channel this was a missed opportunity that we wanted to address.


The collaboration really came into fruition thanks to the work we did on Comcast’s Oxygen brand in the US and translating it into Sky Crime in the UK.  Sky Crime was our interpretation of the Oxygen channel brand two years ago, and Comcast we impressed.  Off the back of that we shared the work that we’d done on Sky Comedy, Sky Witness and other channel identities, which they also loved.  They decided that Sky Creative would be a safe pair of hands for them in the process of creating what had the potential to be a controversial new channel brand.  It was also beneficial that we were able to work on both the brand and the promos at the same time, making the process infinitely more efficient.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that we were making stuff up at the start, simply to gauge reaction.  Fortunately, we managed to land a concept at a relatively early stage, meaning we ultimately sailed through the process quite nicely.


From the outset it was essential that the channel brand was tonally right for the audience it was trying to reach.  And it’s fair to say that Comcast has a very thorough diversity filter, in the sense that it has lots of people looking at it [diversity] through a variety of different lenses.  As a result, authenticity was a word used a lot through the process.  The brand needed to have an authenticity and vibrancy about it that would set the tone of the channel moving forward.  There needed to be elements of campaignability about it while not being a campaigning platform or brand.  It wasn’t about Black Lives Matter per se, but it was about moments of cultural significance and the brand being able to respond to those when they happened.


Early conversations focussed on it not being a black and white channel and that colour should be at the heart of the identity.  There was an entirely conscious effort made to not lean into that stereotypical way of branding a black anything while at the same time be thinking about and considering the musical references of how colourful black culture is, not just from an American perspective but through African heritage, including fashion and design, as well as music.  There was also a lot of talk about referencing the colours contained within the African flags.  The challenge was really to solve the attribution between Black Experience and Xfinity.


Ultimately, what we delivered was a toolkit that could be rolled out according to Comcast’s processes.  One of the biggest challenges was that the team in the UK hadn’t worked together let alone the UK/US teams working together.  Add to that the challenge around time zones, the varying levels of understanding, perception and interpretation it was a huge undertaking to get us to where we wanted to be.


We actually presented three routes and each route had a mini manifesto that laid out the insight for that route. From there, we began to button down on what those manifestos meant.


Sky Creative was brought in a little bit later in thew brainstorm process.  It was actually the range spot that we originally thought we’d be doing. It was only then that it became apparent that this would make a strong launch campaign.


It eventually bottomed out that this was a celebration of culture not a platform for politicisation. It needed to feel true and honest.  Which raised the question; “how do we tackle TV channel versus political platform and show that we care?”  This needed to be a vehicle to let this content sing and we spent lot of time trying to understand authenticity and understand what it is we were trying to achieve without being patronising.


Throughout the whole process, it was always about keeping the viewer and/or audience in our minds. Will this resonate? Will it instigate the reaction we want it to instigate with a 50 or 60-year-old black person or black family? Have we understood what is tonally right for the project?  Continually reminding ourselves as creatives, which is often quite a painful process, is this right for the audience, does this work?  Does this successfully skirt the fine line between emotive and engaging while not being provocative and/or sensationalist?


It was always important that we remembered who we were creating it for.  It’s a product after all.