Philly-based streaming service's niche: serving the G in LGBT

Brian Sokel, chief operating officer of the Philly-based national streaming service Dekkoo.

So here’s a point of Philadelphia Pride: The city’s home to a streaming video service — think Netflix or Hulu, but smaller — that’s tailored to gay men.

Dekkoo (pronounced DEK-oo) is the brainchild of Derek Curl, a producer and businessman who, after his company bought Philadelphia’s TLA Entertainment Group in 2014, set out to establish a platform for gay cinema with the help of TLA’s then-general manager, Brian Sokel.  Sokel, an Oreland native and Temple graduate whose first career was as a musician (AM/FM, Franklin), is now chief operating officer of Dekkoo. Sokel spoke with Ellen Gray about why the niche approach matters, and how it’s paying off. Here, edited and condensed, is their conversation.

First, why is it called Dekkoo? 

We came across a Hindi slang word called dekka, and it means take a glance at something, and we thought that was an interesting word. And Dekkoo just sounded cuter.

What’s the rationale for a streaming service specifically tailored to gay men?

We found that large streaming platforms, like a Netflix or a Hulu, while they had LGBT and LGBTQ sections, it wasn’t their focal point. So what you ended up getting was a lot of the same content. And every letter [in LGBTQ] is thrown into that pool. When you go to a Netflix and you look in the LGBT section, you’ll say, ‘Well, OK, half this is lesbian content.’ It’s not just one size fits all. We don’t compete with Netflix. Dekkoo is an additional experience for someone who’s very, very interested in cinema for gay men.

Streaming technology has been a huge disrupter in the way movies and series are distributed. How hard was this to pull off?

What’s fun right now is that people who are true fans of a certain genre of film, for example, can’t get as in-depth as they would like with a Netflix or a Hulu, because they’re catering to the widest audience possible. So sites like Shudder or Filmstruck pop up, who cater to that specific audience. Technically, anybody could do this. The ability to deliver a quality streaming experience, where users can access it easily, in a way that they’re used to doing it from their different devices, is where the challenge lies.

Why is Dekkoo based in Philadelphia? Did you just not want to move?

In this model, you don’t have to be in L.A.; you don’t have to be in New York. I could be working in the Bahamas if I wanted to be.

You have a well-regarded Memphis, Tenn.-set series in Morgan Jon Fox’s Feral, and a dating show, Love Is Blind, that’s the first I’ve ever seen to feature a wrestling lesson as a blind date. How important is it for Dekkoo to be creating, and not just acquiring, content?

Our goal is, of course, to provide a platform for young filmmakers, for new filmmakers, for underrepresented filmmakers. From a practical business [viewpoint], it’s uber-important to present your own content. You have to be able to tell stories that speak to gay men in a way that is not just tokenized. We spoke with another filmmaker the other day. He’s working on this great werewolf horror movie. He’s a an actor, and he’s been in gay films —  gay comedies and gay romance. He said, “I enjoy being in those films, but what I’m really interested in doing is telling stories [in which] the gay character is not the point.” There are just leads that are gay because there are gay people in the world.

What does a subscription cost? How many subscribers?

We’re $9.99 per month, with seven-day free trial. But during Pride month, if they use the word pride when they sign up, the first two months are 33 percent off. We don’t give out exact numbers, but we’re between 10,000 and 20,000 subscribers. And that’s actual paid subscribers. We don’t include free trial members.

Are you profitable?

We launched the site with literally $4,000 worth of investment. We were profitable from month two.

So how, given the costs you spoke of, did you do that with only $4,000 to start?

That I can’t say. Because then everybody else could do it.  [Laughs.] We are hardworking, industrious people who have found ways to solve problems.

What’s it like to be a straight man running a streaming service for gay men?

It’s interesting. Derek is gay. At TLA, I was always around a very diverse  group of people. Being able to work on Dekkoo, I take great pride in it, as a cis white man. I don’t think you have to be gay to enjoy gay cinema. I think I can recognize quality films across any genre.