Saturday September 23rd, 2023
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The Egyptian Mind Behind New York’s First Public Online TV

Filling the void between public TV and our insatiable appetite for viral videos, NYC.TV plans to shake up the Internet. Valentina Primo speaks to its Egyptian co-founder Kareem Ahmed to find out more...

Staff Writer

In a sea of scattered content, where do viral videos go? Hailing from New York’s overly stimulating corners and inspired by the profuse creativity that springs from its every street, a talented trio has just created the world’s first public access web-based channel. 

The idea came about when former media whizzes Alexandra Serio, Max Nelso and Kareem Ahmed joined forces, bringing together their professional experience at giants such as The New York Times, Vox Media, and VICE. From goose-bump-giving voices on the subway to urban courtship ritual comedies, NYC.TV gears up to turn the cyberspace upside down, filling the gap between public TV and viral videos.

Bringing an Egyptian essence to the vivacious squad, Kareem Ahmed explains how their platform is promising to change the way we search for entertainment amidst a media landscape that is “like the wild, wild west. There's never been a time like this in media. The power is with the people within their social feeds, but it's also within the hands of the companies that control those social feeds. NYC.TV is allowing individual creators to have the backing and support of a media company, without having to lose their voice or their edge,” he explains in an interview with CairoScene, as he highlights the company’s community-based model.

While the arrival of the Internet in the 1990s seemed to have breached the boundaries of public television, opening up an era of limitless broadcast reach and boundless available content, its spiderwebbed nature poses, at the same time, its own limitation. “The Internet is a big place, and it’s easy to get lost or make a wrong turn on the information super highway. It’s also easy to isolate and turn inward in this 2D world where the answer to every inane question that pops into your head is literally a keystroke away,” says his partner Serio in a Medium post.

With so many videos getting lost in the Internet rabbit hole, their channel filters through the clutter, shifting the focus to NYC’s local communities and their creative talents, thus filling a void that public access used to fill. From web series, to video art, to documentaries, their videos have all one thing in common: they are New York-based. “We think there is value in watching something that's been made by a friend or neighbor or acquaintance versus mindlessly consuming commodity style internet videos. We see substance and authenticity in the stories told by people like us,” says Ahmed.

This Will Not End Well, part of the programming living now on NYC.TV 

Having met while working at VICE, the trio created NYC.TV in October 2014, initially aiming to release a video every other day and gradually increase the output, publishing not only freelance videos but also crafting their own original content. With that horizon in mind, they launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign last June, where they successfully raised over $52,000 to fund content production. “We wanted to do something special and unique. And that was to create an independent development fund that supported local video creators,” Ahmed explains. “The next step? We're working with some select people on some really exciting projects.”

True to its social nature, the platform follows a distributed media model, which means viewers never have to visit the website in order to find videos, as videos will come to viewers via their social media channels such as Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo and Vine.

Rejecting traditional advertising, the company adopted a revenue model based on brand sponsorships in multiple forms, such as branded content, product integration, or other innovative ways weave a brand ethos into the content. “We'll never run impression-based advertising sold at a CPM,” Ahmed states. “Pre-roll and banner ads are losing game for everyone involved. The audience hates them. They're totally unfair for the publisher and are ineffective for advertisers; they are a waste of money. We're proposing something new and different. Advertisers can come to us with any idea and we'll consider it as long as it isn't preroll.”

Weaved by the common thread of New York City as its launching pads, the stories on NYC.TV can range from documentaries about human rights in China to comedy web series that juggle with the absurd; as long as the crew that shoots it is New York–based. “One story I would love to see on NYC.TV? Well, there are all of these wild people living in cottages on New York City rooftops. I want to know who they are and how they got there,” comments Ahmed. The creators, however, are aiming to expand to other cities in the USA where creative communities flourish such as LA, San Francisco, or Denver, and eventually, worldwide.  

A former Director of Audience Development and Growth Strategy Editor at The New York Times, Ahmed’s experience in media also led him to put his fingerprints on VICE, where he was responsible for leading global marketing across the company. Today an entrepreneur leading the way to a new era for web-based media, the strategist sees his Egyptian side visibly coming out in the team’s perseverance to thrive. “I feel like Egyptians have this underdog thing going. We're always out to prove something,” he says.