Photos Courtesy of Toyce Francis and JG Images
New York Area web designer, entertainment personality and entrepreneur Toyce Francis founded ISeeGayPeople.TV, an online portal that features quality LGBT web series and films, to “serve as the ‘Magic Mirror’ for the gay community.” Francis, who was named to The Advocate magazine’s ‘Forty Under 40’ for 2012, has over a decade of experience in the web entertainment industry; he launched ISeeGayPeople.TV to address the needs of the LGBT community. PrideIndex talked to Francis about his experience, ISeeGayPeople.TV’s business model and developing trends in web media.
PRIDEINDEX: Tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of your professional background within the information technology and entertainment industries.
TOYCE FRANCIS: My professional background started in web project management for a large banking corporation. After achieving my MBA and Master’s in management, I branched out into consulting on my own. I moved to New York originally to pursue some of my entertainment goals acting and performing, but through my associations actually began using my skills to help behind the scenes working on technology projects for entertainment companies such as ESPN Disney, Code Black Entertainment and Fox Pictures.
PI: What made you start your own online TV network?
TF: When I moved to New York, I worked with other entertainment startups that catered to smaller niches of the LGBT community. It was a great learning experience, but I had different goals and aspirations for myself. I’d already been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, so I opted to start my own project to address the needs of the LGBT community as a whole and express my unique point of view.
PI: What is the significance of your site’s name? / Why did you choose this name?
TF: iSeeGayPeople for me is about visibility, which I believe makes a tremendous difference in the lives of young people struggling with sexual identity. Seeing LGBT images lets them know that they are not alone. I also think a project like mine can positively affect those outside the LGBT community. The more people are exposed to a variety of gay people, the less taboo gay becomes. But it all starts with exposure and being seen.
PI: What is the mission or objective of ISeeGayPeople.TV?
TF: The mission of iSeeGayPeople.tv is to serve as the ‘Magic Mirror’ for the LGBT community. It will serve as a portal to see images of ourselves that we don’t often find in other mainstream channels. We want to provide a one stop shop for finding independent LGBT voices in sitcoms, documentaries, films… you name it. iSeeGayPeople is about seeing ourselves, being seen and sustaining independent LGBT media.
PI: Talk a little bit about ISeeGayPeople.TV’s business model (E.g. Is it a pay per view site or a free site?) Why did you choose this particular model?
TF: The site is free. And there will always be a free component of the site because we want the content to be accessible. We generate revenue through advertising. We also want to help these independent LGBT voices to prosper and continue to do what they do, so we offer web series producers a great share in ad revenue. In the future, we may have a premium component, sort of like a Hulu vs Hulu Plus aspect of the site once we have enough original content that can only be seen on our site. But at this stage, everything is free for the viewer.
PI: How do you decide what to cover?
TF: We want to show content that we think people will enjoy. So the first criterion is quality. An example of this would be one of the most awarded web series on the web ‘Anyone but Me’. This web series has over 10 million views internationally. And we are fortunate enough to have the first season on our site. And secondly we based it on diversity. We’ve got a great show about the gay bear community of New York called ‘Bulk’, a show about the Asian lesbian community of LA called ‘That’s what she said’, and a variety of shows in between. Basically, we want to show great shows from as many different corners of the LGBT community as possible.
PI: There are a slew websites and blogs that cover webdramas/serials, for example there’s AJ Christian’s Televisuals, and to some degree Herndon Davis’ YouTube Channel. Do you believe the web is becoming too saturated with LGBT related web series?
TF: There are fewer than you would think. iSeeGayPeople and the various sites mentioned are all completely different. AJ’s site is a blog review & directory of all things web series related. I have only seen a few of Herndon’s videos, but I believe his channel is a vlog where he discusses various topics. iSeeGayPeople is a portal where you can actually watch professionally produced LGBT web series and films on the site. There aren’t very many sites that do what my site does catering to the LGBT community.
PI: What do you like most about ISeeGayPeople.TV?
TF: So far, I love that I am able to merge my experience in web technology with my passion for entertainment while adding something worthwhile to the LGBT community. In the near future, it will be actually producing original content. I enjoy the process of creativity in entertainment, so I am especially looking forward to that.
PI: Any Hobbies?
TF: I love to sing. I used to have professional aspirations but the music industry can be a bit rugged. I even got a ‘maybe’ at my audition for The Voice, but didn’t get the final call… womp womp. But I still enjoy doing it and… you never know.
PI: Name at least 3 people who have had the most influence on your artistic style.
TF: I don’t really have specific artistic influencers, more like people I admire in general. I want to be successful while maintaining my integrity and living a positive life like Oprah Winfrey. I strive to be an intelligent sharp Black man that is exemplary to future generations like Barack Obama. And I hope that projects I produce will one day move and inspire people the way Alvin Ailey’s work moves me no matter how many times I see it.
PI: What are some of the developing trends and paradigms that are taking place in web based dramas that we should be made aware of?
TF: Producing content is becoming more and more accessible. So you will see more people producing a wider variety of content. Some will be good, some will probably suck, but there will be lots more content available that speaks directly to us. If you are diligent in searching the web, (or you visit iSeeGayPeople.tv frequently), you will find some great stuff. If not… don’t be afraid to grab a camera and produce something yourself… it’s totally doable nowadays. I say, the more voices, the better.
PI: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
TF: Check out the shows on iSeeGayPeople.tv, and continue to check back as we will be adding more shows and content as time progresses. Also check out my other project GayPartyList.com which is a new site featuring a social network and LGBT nightlife listings. And finally, please support LGBT artists and projects just in general.
For more info click iSeeGayPeople.tv