Like it or not, the fact that COVID-19 forced us all to learn new means to communicate over the past year-plus of social isolation has permanently changed our ways of seeing and hearing and given us a new vocabulary. “Platforms” aren’t simply geeky jargon for cable channels and streaming services; “content creators” are more than the kids who post videos on YouTube or TikTok. The barriers that once existed in our minds between artists and hobbyists, teachers and learners, hawkers and consumers are evaporating.
Though we rightfully fret about the negative unintended consequences of the “democratization” of communications media – especially when we’re battered by political discourse in which conspiracy theories threaten to supplant verifiable data – there’s no turning the clock back. And the way those media became crucial to our ability to function as a society during lockdown is a portal to what will inevitably come next. Going forward, being physically present in a space will become less crucial to accessing what happens there. Emily Dickinson wrote, “There is no frigate like a book / To bear us lands away,” but now we’ve got a whole new fleet of such frigates, and more of them are being built.
Happily, there are people out there – even here in our own mid-Hudson region – trying to ensure that the new platforms now evolving will not merely serve as money siphons for the already-rich and powerful. This grassroots impulse regarding communications modes has been around before, starting around 1970 when easily portable video production became available for the first time. With the Porta-Pak revolution came the rise of public access television: a utopian concept if there ever was one. The trouble was that audiences, spoiled by more professional-looking media products, weren’t tuning in.
Fifty years on, the miniaturization of sophisticated electronic technology has put not only a computer in nearly all our pockets, but a video camera as well. The product that an amateur content creator with a tiny budget can produce has become watchable (and may even go viral). So why shouldn’t we be getting better access to media fare that originates locally and reflects our own lives, surroundings and concerns? Why must the presenters of a local concert, say, have to pad the pockets of the billionaires behind Facebook and YouTube in order to stream it to a wider audience?
These are the kinds of questions that were preoccupying Jesse Brown and Angel Gates Fonseca back in 2016, when they teamed up to create the digital streaming platform and local video production company they call HUDSY. Brown had already encountered some success in media production as early as 2005, when he helped launch a snowboarding magazine in Jackson Hole that still exists today. Returning to his native mid-Hudson, he did a fellowship at the Kingston-based Good Work Institute that challenged him to find a way of giving back to the community while making his living. As Angel Gates recounts the tale of HUDSY’s origins, Brown “decided that centralizing content from the Hudson Valley would be a good start. We knew that there are so many amazing pieces out there, but not too many eyes see them. We wanted to find a way to get people to connect with them.”
Before long, several other partners came on board: Shawn Strong and Laura Kandel are also listed as “co-founders” on the HUDSY website. While the diverse group never aimed to become a not-for-profit, they immediately embraced a nontraditional, cooperative business model. But we’re not talking a granola operation here, either; the folks behind HUDSY are aiming high. They pitch their concept as “Kind of like if Netflix and high-quality public access television had a sultry romance that produced a digital TV baby.”
Angel Gates says that the aim is to create maximum distribution for locally produced media that anyone can submit, but are curated by a content committee to ensure that they look and sound totally professional and have high entertainment as well as information value. “It’s a new era, a new age. Everyone has access to gear that puts out quality product,” he notes. “Quality control in storytelling is a big factor. Our product needs to reflect what the big players are doing…To be a trusted household name is the goal.”
Will Joe Average TV-Viewer embrace a new, regionally hyperfocused source of topnotch programming? The HUDSY team believes that he will, if access is made simple enough. They’re developing a streaming app, with launch projected for December 2021 or January 2022, that will be “a free platform for the first couple of years,” says Angel Gates. It’s what’s called an OTT (over-the-top) application, designed to use Internet streaming to bypass traditional viewing gatekeepers such as cable services. “Wherever you download apps, you’ll be able to find HUDSY.”
Eventually, once a viewership base is established, it may become a subscription service in order to generate income streams for the producers presenting their material. “As we grow a network of local film and digital TV professionals, we are working to normalize the dignity of artists’ rights and ensure they are paid for their creative work,” the website promises.
While they work out a licensing structure for content creators, the HUDSY folks are also focused on determining what their audience wants to see, and making a lot of product themselves. “We’re filmmakers first by default, but in a perfect world, we wouldn’t be producing the content,” Angel Gates explains. Prior to the launch of the app, these works are viewable via the HUDSY website, and programs of selected shorts have already been screened at the Rosendale Theatre under the collective title of The Commons. “The Theatre was packed at every event we had. People want to connect.”
As launch of the app draws nearer, HUDSY has put out a call for content creators in the Hudson Valley’s 11 counties to submit proposals for grants of up to $5,000, supported by HUDSY’s Community Content Fund. It’s the first year of what the team hopes will be an ongoing annual program to inject capital into the creative community, building artistic momentum in the region by enabling grassroots producers to get their projects off the ground. In its press release about the grant program, HUDSY says it “looks forward to helping bring the most meaningful stories from Hudson Valley communities to life while also restructuring the income inequalities that currently exist in the field.”
Applications for HUDSY’s Community Content Fund are due by July 1, 2021, and can be accessed at https://airtable.com/shrVX5MDGJuP5RB6S. Once selected by the HUDSY Content Committee, content creators must be prepared to present the completed project by November 1, 2021. To learn more about this and other HUDSY initiatives, visit https://hudsy.tv.