16-to-24-year-olds are the biggest consumers of content and yet outside of becoming a successful YouTuber or TikToker, have little to no agency in achieving content creation. HB Media’s mission is to amplify the generation’s voice, speaking on the issues that matter to them.
We spoke with founder Christian Nourry to find out more about HB Media’s activities, and how they are trying to achieve tangible social impact and innovation.
I studied Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Management at Imperial in 2019/20 after studying History at Trinity College, Oxford. HB Media is made up of 10 Gen Z team members, all 24 or younger and almost all with some major early experience in media or entertainment – from an ex-production assistant of a Hollywood actor, to an ex-singer/songwriter who had recording deal offers from Sony and Universal.
Officially launched in April 2021, HB Media’s vision is based on the whole team’s potential. None of the team are ‘experts’ in their field, however we are fully engaged and have a very high level of understanding of our target audience, recognising the appetite for honest media with no clickbait or cynical editing. We are all very proud to work and create in an environment where we see bright, young people grow in skills and confidence.
With an overarching message to build and develop personal resilience, the team’s core values include learning and developing our ability to stay rational, to nurture our creativity, to identify individual strengths and develop everybody’s personal skills, and thus are creating an eco-system to demonstrate our impact to a wider audience.
I would say that the world of social media the 16-24-year-old demographic has already seen three ‘mini-eras’ when it comes to widespread behaviours over the last decade. Briefly:
- Everything was new, cool and exciting – early 2010s: Instagram was a place for genuineness and there were fewer in-app filters and tools to perfect photos. Social media was simply a place to connect with our friends/family.
- Commercialisation and weaponisation of these platforms: as users became addicted to the dopamine hit originating from ‘likes’ & the celebrity world tried to avoid ‘hate’ as much as possible, as a society we began to sell the “perfect versions” of ourselves online. Everybody could now ‘airbrush’ themselves, and a world was created in which the number of ‘likes’ you get on your latest picture dictates how popular you are, leading to generation-defining crises around image, self-confidence and social anxiety.
- Our internal data from last year showed that the 16-24-year-old market has reached an all-time high in their level of scepticism in terms of what they are seeing online. A majority of this demographic now believe that a celebrity’s social media feed is entirely authored by someone else. This has brought about loneliness and mistrust, not just of celebrity culture, but also resentment among young people and their friendship groups concerning the lack of honesty in online personas - it is also responsible for the “Finsta” revolution, a temporary rejection of the false narratives that people were putting out online, an additional Instagram account, typically made private and accepting fewer followers than an individual’s main account, where they could be more “honest.”
- And this is where we are now – the characteristics of the three earlier eras have created a greater demand for genuine and relatable content than ever before. The messier nature of TikTok in this regard has been a big driver for the platform, the rises to prominence of influencers such as Adin Ross or TommyInnit on Twitch have occurred because the 16-24-year-old audience believes so wholeheartedly that the characters that they purport to be on a 4-hour stream are genuine – it is much more complicated to pretend to be something you are not on a constant multi-hour stream than in one Instagram post.
“It is through vulnerability in 2021 that their client can actually build out a legacy audience, that isn’t just going to be there when they release their next single, but be there for the next 5 albums instead.”
Whilst there are new winners in the creator world in every cycle, we saw that the demand for honest and relatable content was most strongly directed towards the celebrities that made the Gen Z demographic first dream of becoming a footballer, a singer or an actor - their current and past inspirations who became personalities initially because of their skill, rather than having their personality validated by the internet. Historically, more traditional celebrities have been more guarded owing to the traditional agent/PR set-up. Yet the people at the forefront of the talent and PR game understand that it is through vulnerability in 2021 that their client can actually build out a legacy audience, that isn’t just going to be there when they release their next single, but be there for the next 5 albums instead.
This is where the idea for a multi-segmented entertainment format for Gen Z was born, one that tackled things that personally affected its target audience, rather than how a celebrity is spending their money or how cool a party they went to was, which is too often the sad state of the existing big network chat shows.
Off the back of this, there are three segments of our target demographic that we found, who are demanding honest, relatable content:
1. Gen Z who care passionately about several social issues and want to see more advocacy by people with influence around them.
2. Gen Z who posted a black square on Instagram during the surge in BLM awareness following the murder of George Floyd, but maybe didn’t have a full understanding of the significance, maybe were more doing so because they saw others online doing it, and who want to be more informed on social issues but haven’t found an accessible way to do so.
3. Gen Z who adore celebrity and celebrity culture and therefore want to know as much as possible about as many people as possible.
Having identified problems with the way Gen Z access and consume media, a real interest has evolved for myself and the wider HB Media team, and we now have the desire to find innovative solutions and contribute to efforts in mitigating the effects of dishonest and misleading media on the Gen Z demographic, but ultimately improving media output and consumption in the longer term.
HB Media is still quite a new startup, so although in the longer term we expect to encounter many challenges, our biggest one to date is of course obtaining investment to kickstart our initiatives. We started with big ideas and no capital to implement them with, so figuring out ways of collaborating with industry experts when being ‘vision rich but cash poor’ was the major challenge. When you try to do something like this for the first time, you receive many more no’s than yes’, but we will be forever grateful to the guests who joined us for this development series because they are buying into a much larger vision than anything else at this stage. They trust us to deliver their message and so far, we believe we have done them and the issues spoken about justice.
“Fundamentally, we want to create content that will change people’s lives”
In terms of sustainability, our business model is well-travelled in other areas of the new media world for different types of content, focusing heavily on strategic social media and brand partnerships. Brat.tv is a case study we look at very closely: totally different content targeting a younger demographic (more 11-16), but has demonstrated that you don’t have to be a platform to attract VC investment or achieve sustainable growth - you can produce exceptional content and work smartly about how you deploy across different platforms.
It may not be a crypto or SaaS play, which let’s be honest is what is sexy right now, but there is major social and financial value here. There’s a huge pivot in the investment community at the moment about doing social good, which is awesome and when I hear people like Chamath Palihapitiya talk about purely investing in what actually matters, like climate change, making people’s lives physically better through tech innovation – you cannot help but feel positive. But what about how they feel? What about the power to change someone’s opinion? How they act towards a certain issue? Creating a safe space for the people that the 16-24-year-old demographic is most inspired by to speak honestly about things they care about? To make that demographic think differently about how they treat people in everyday life? That’s what we are asking the community for – I hope they hear us.
Impact to date
Fundamentally, we want to create content that will change people’s lives, and we’ve been blown away with the level of reach our first three episodes have had, with 1.6 million combined views across all platforms. Within 48 hours of the first episode of the development series with Jesse Lingard dropping, we had received thousands of comments and direct messages from young men from New York to Thailand, showing gratitude to Jesse for sharing his story as it gave them the necessary confidence to open up about their mental health battles to their loved ones.
What has resonated the most with the team so far is the personal comments and direct messages sent in by fans. Young people from all over the world have contacted us to share their own experiences, and how watching ‘Presenting’ allowed them to feel confidence to open up about their own experiences, validating to us that these conversations have a real, positive impact on those watching.
HB Media aims to be a critical enabler of stimulating better information and education provision, women and young people empowerment, and help to address the challenges that the Gen Z demographic are facing.
We are bringing together some amazing young people, from our hosts Emily, Kaya and Kehn, to the team that worked behind the scenes, who are all exceptionally talented and could have spent the last 18 months on a far more certain path, but collectively we all want to attempt to achieve something far bigger than ourselves.
Future research & impact
We are hoping to continue engaging with and collaborating with industry experts, researchers at Imperial and investors to build out our idea and facilitate the development of future episodes and initiatives. It is really important that the knowledge we gain through these initial campaigns can be shared and explored so that we can expand our reach.
From an entrepreneurial perspective, we raised a small pre-seed at the end of 2019 for initial development and testing, and we are now a couple of weeks into seed raising to further scale up our efforts. We have also tested our business model through brand partnerships, and would like to develop these further over the coming months.
Everything that has gone into making this a reality, such as conducting research, design, fostering the right technical/academic partnerships, raising finances and working on implementation has been incredibly rewarding and exciting, and we can’t wait to take our next steps and empower the lives of young people around the world.
You can keep track of our progress by visiting https://www.hb-media.org/, or by following us (HB Media on LinkedIn & @WeArePresenting on all socials).