The Revolution Will Be Group Texted: How Blue Fever Is Changing the Streaming Game by Prioritizing Young Women
When Greta McAnany and Lauren Tracy met in line at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival (for a screening of the movie Pussy Riot, no less), they knew that it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Fed up with the sexist roadblocks they faced as young women in entertainment, Greta and Lauren set out to create a space for emerging and established female filmmakers to showcase their work outside the male-dominated realm of Hollywood. It was with this ambition that they launched Blue Fever, a streaming platform for video content made by and for women.
Since founding Blue Fever, Greta and Lauren have curated over 2,000 female-driven digital series, short films, comedy sketches, docu-pieces, and music videos. While video platforms like Youtube and Funny or Die cater to male users, Blue Fever is unabashedly and intentionally geared toward women. Not only does Blue Fever feature female-focused content, but every other aspect of the platform has been informed by its female users as well—from how they communicate, to how they choose content, and how much they loathe online comment sections.
With Blue Fever, Greta and Lauren are building a community of badass female creators and consumers, one group text at a time. We got these kickass entrepreneurs on the phone and asked them about their plans for Blue Fever, the challenges they’ve encountered as young female startup founders, and how their dynamic has informed their revolutionary platform.
OPENLETR: Blue Fever has grown and changed quite a bit over the last year. What new features are you currently developing for the platform?
Greta: It’s been a f*cking crazy six months, let us tell you. In May, we found out that we got into Techstars, which is one of the biggest startup accelerators in the world. As we headed into Techstars, we asked our users for their feedback on our beta platform, and we got two overwhelming responses. One, “When I watch your content, I feel better about myself.” And two, “I love this content, but I want you to help me make watching Blue Fever a habit.” And we were like… Great! Us too! But how? It was while we were in Techstars that we actually started to experiment with text message as a way of communicating with our users. We started texting out the video content that we’ve curated, and in a month and a half, we went from zero cell phone users to 10K. And in three months, we were up to 20K users. So we’ve just continued to grow.
Lauren: When we realized we wanted to start sending out text messages, we just asked our users, “How do you share video? How do you currently watch video and share with your friends? And how do you talk about the content that you love?” And they all said, “Text message.” And we were like, “Duh, us too.” Young women are already on text message, and text is so much more personal than Facebook, or Instagram, or these other big platforms. Our users tell us how personal Blue Fever is to them as a web platform, so we really wanted to continue that personal interaction. We thought text message was a good way to do that, and our hunch was correct. Once we started using text message as our main mode of communication, our user base got a little bit younger. Now our most engaged user is 17 years old, and those users are the ones who communicate with us most about the content… and about lots of other things. We always thought that this personal, emotional way of looking at content was the way to go with women. Even before introducing text message, we had created a whole mood curation system that we just hadn’t yet implemented on the website. So it kind of came together really nicely all at once. And we decided, OK let’s just talk to these girls like a best friend does. We’re just like them in a lot of ways, and they already talk to their girlfriends via text message about stuff that they are worried about or going through. So that whole notion Greta mentioned, about users feeling better about themselves after watching our content, became the whole crux of how we curate entertainment specifically for women. We’ve learned that women are just not the same as men when they think about what they’re going to consume.
Greta: It’s not as simple as, “Oh, what’s going on in my life? Do I need a comedy or a drama?” That’s so black and white, and it’s not how the female brain works, whatsoever.
Lauren: Exactly. So we started to label all our content based on moods, and emotions, and experiences that young women go through. We have volunteers tag our videos, so women of all shapes and sizes and colors and backgrounds are watching this content and telling us what it means to them. Right now, we send two video text messages a week to our users as a group, and it’s all short form content, like webseries, music videos, short films, and TED Talks.
Greta: We’ve been gathering data on what these young women are responding to, and we curate off of that. When we’re choosing what content to send out, we can be responding to something in popular culture, or even the fact that many of our girls are dealing with school and finals, so we give them a piece that’s relevant to what they’re going through. That’s the data we’re collecting, and Blue Fever has really shifted from being an entertainment and content company to being a media and data company. We believe that when you are really data driven, that’s when you can serve your audience the best, and that’s where the power is in being a distributor. That’s what makes Netflix and Hulu so powerful. And we’ve also seen the writing on the wall that any really successful entertainment company is a successful tech company, and so developing proprietary technology like the mood curation system is going to set us apart from beyond just having really great content. Which is still the number one question we get: “How do you know there’s enough content? How do you even know where you’re going to find it?” And we’re like, I don’t know how to tell you this, but the Internet is just a sh*ttier version of Netflix. There’s so much content, and it’s everywhere—especially content by women.
Lauren: There are five million shows on Youtube watched every day. So don’t tell me there’s not enough content. You just need to know how to find and organize it. You need to know how to give it to the right person at the right time. Right now, we’re sending our video texts to the group as a whole, and what started to happen really magically was that a percentage of our audience started to respond, unprompted. We weren’t asking questions, they just started to respond—either to the content, or they just reached out to us because we were an anonymous warm body at the other end of a text message.
Greta: They’d be like, “Hey boo, how’s your day? I’m struggling with this thing…” And we were able to start recommending content based on what our users were dealing with in their lives.
Lauren: In terms of our product, the top reaction was, “Oh my god, I needed that specific piece of content right now, how did you know?” Early on, we shared a really great comedy about bulimia that not a lot of people had seen. Then a bunch of girls started talking to us about their eating disorders. And we were like, “Ohhhh I see what we’re doing here.” We basically started realizing that when we were speaking to them it felt personal because it was a text message, and we realized this was the best way we could personalize. So now we’re actually launching some tests to see if our users will pay for a more personalized, curated version of our product with recommendations based on their mood, tastes, and emotions. It’s like having that friend at the other end of the phone who knows what you need when you need it, first and foremost because she’s asking you. But over time, we’ll be able to learn and predict a little more. You know how when you’re upset and your friend sends you that text or recommends that piece of content that she can sense that you need because she knows you, and you’ve been telling her about what you’re going through in life? That’s Blue Fever. It’s a way of bringing people content in a much more personalized way. It’s like a girl squad identity brand that Netflix is never gonna be. We make our users feel safe, and heard, and that’s really beautiful to us. That’s what we want to grow.
OPENLETR: Have you ever received pushback or criticism for gearing your platform primarily toward young women? Has anyone ever tried to talk you out of it?
Lauren: We’ve gotten it from all sides.
Greta: We have. But our mission is to change the way women see themselves, and the way the world sees us through entertainment. That’s just what we believe in and stand for, and whatever we’ve done up until this point has served that. That’s not to say that everybody has gotten what we are doing along the way. Even today, I was on the phone with somebody from Facebook, and he’s like, “Looks like you guys have yourself a nice little niche audience”.
Lauren: F*ck that, dude.
Greta: Seriously. Women aren’t niche, we’re like half the population. Where we run into the most issues is people disagreeing on facts, and that mostly happens when we’re talking to men. We’ll say something like, “Actually, female driven films make more money.” And we’ll just be told, straight up, “I’m not saying you’re lying, but I just don’t believe you.”
Lauren: This has been happening less is the last three months, as all this bullsh*t has come out in Hollywood.
Greta: But still, seeing two young women like us being trusted with millions of dollars, that is newer for a lot of people. And we don’t have “finance” backgrounds, but what we always tell investors is there’s a wide open space in the market for this right now because you cannot name one digital media entertainment company that is specifically dedicated to young women.
OPENLETR: Where do you think there’s been the most growth in entertainment since you started Blue Fever, and where do think it’s still lagging the most?
Lauren: We’ve seen a lot of shift in the culture between women—a shift to women working together. You could even see at this year’s Golden Globes. When Nicole Kidman was giving her thank you speech, she talked about how she and the other women on Big Littles Lies pledged their allegiance to each other, and lifted each other up. We’re also starting to see men get on that train, where five years ago that would not have been the case.
Greta: Awareness has come a long way. Even in 2014, 2015, people could deny the fact that there was discrimination in entertainment. Now it’s common knowledge, and that’s fantastic. But now as we’re looking for heroes and role models as women who are creating a media and tech company—we’re realizing that there isn’t anyone for us to follow. It was hard enough to find female filmmakers to look up to, but now we’re going, “Who are the women running multi-billion dollar corporations who are changing culture?” The leadership structure that most venture capitalists are used to—where you have one person at the head—doesn’t work for us. Approaching things with community and counsel is such a more feminine way of doing things. So we’re searching for our own models and our own hero story. That’s one of the ways in which we still have really far to go. We see such a lack of confidence in the texts we receive from our girls every day. They’re not confident in their bodies, they don’t think they can go into writing because it’s a “man’s world”, they don’t think they can get into college… Yeah, we have a f*cking long way to go.
OPENLETR: You two have always had such a close and personal relationship, as friends and business partners. How does your partner dynamic feed into your work and product?
Greta: I don’t think Lauren and I realized how special our dynamic was until we were in Techstars, and every single person told us, “I wish I had your founder relationship.” People had told us before that our partnership was special, but not that constantly and in such a hyper-competitive setting. I mean, Lauren got married in October, so I guess we’ll never be married…
Lauren: Never say never. There’s polygamy, there’s divorce—
Greta: See? She’s such a problem solver. I love her. But Lauren is long distance from her husband right now, and my boyfriend is in med school. So we live together, we work together, we’re around each other 24/7. It’s something we have to work really hard at, especially when the stakes are so high. I’ve learned a f*ckton about myself from Lauren. We help each other explore parts of ourselves that were never encouraged before.
Lauren: But we’re actually really different. I’ve never had a friend like Greta before, who is what I consider to be twice as outgoing as me. I didn’t think that was possible. I realized I was an introvert after spending three years working with Greta. Our differences help us balance each other, and that’s taught me a lot about myself. And because we’re women, we have to work twice as hard to get as far as our male peers in the startup world. So having this partnership of two women is super beneficial that way, but also it is a very feminine way to do things.
Greta: It’s hard work that’s supported by the massive amount of respect we have for each other, and the massive amount of fun we have. We just laugh all the goddamn time, and we speak our own little language. We’ve gotten so intuitive. It’s one of the most beautiful things in my life.
Lauren: Same here, babe.
If you’d like to sign up for Blue Fever’s exclusive group texts and start receiving curated video content that will make you feel awesome, you can do so here. Make sure to check out the Blue Fever website to learn about the content, creators, and causes Blue Fever is currently championing. And if you’re a creator yourself, don’t hesitate to drop Greta and Lauren a line!