With Streaming Service “Memphis Centric,” Octavia Young Puts the Bluff City in the Spotlight

By: Ezra Wheeler

Since the launch of Netflix in 2007, the way that we watch television has been inexorably altered with more and more people opting to “cut the cord” every year. And while on-demand streaming services certainly come with their fair share of benefits, one of the most obvious downsides has been the loss of local programming. This fall, that will all change in the Bluff City with the launch of Memphis Centric, a digital streaming service that aims to “showcase a unique and intimate version of Memphis” through a variety of locally-produced content. The channel will be available for free on any internet-enabled device, such as Roku and Fire TV.

Memphis Centric is the brainchild of Octavia Young, who will be familiar to many Memphians as the former owner of Midtown Crossing, a beloved neighborhood restaurant that was once a popular meeting space for artists, musicians, activists, and comedians. While the shift from restaurateur to media executive may seem unorthodox, Octavia points to this community of creatives who once called her establishment home as the inspiration for the channel. We sat down with Octavia to discuss Memphis Centric, its programming, and more.

Let’s start with the most basic of questions. What exactly is Memphis Centric?

Memphis Centric is a streaming channel where Memphis is the star. It will be focused on all things Memphis, especially arts, culture, and lifestyle. We want to focus on narratives that haven’t been presented before. Our aim is to shine a positive light on the city and its people, which will hopefully help to counter the more negative narrative that many of us have become familiar with. A lot of people here aren’t aware of our history and cultural contributions, and this channel will provide a chance to showcase what and who we are.

Aside from coming up with the concept for a Memphis-focused streaming service, what is your day-to-day role within Memphis Centric?

My primary role is as the channel’s curator, which involves finding new shows, supporting the content creators, and also discovering work that has been sitting on the shelf in search of a home. Aside from myself, the team also includes the Morris Group, which is our marketing partner, as well as Storyboard Memphis and Memphis Film Prize. The latter two have been instrumental in helping this project move along, particularly in terms of getting me in front of people to share the vision with.

I know that you are still in the process of gathering content, but can you tell us a bit about some of the projects that are already on board?

Like you said, I anticipate the gathering of new content to be an ongoing venture, but we do have several programs that will be available upon the launch. The first is “Storyboard Memphis TV,” which is an offshoot of the “Storyboard Memphis” magazine. As you may know, they highlight a lot of the same things that Memphis Centric will be focused on, so there was an immediate synergy there. They’ll be concentrating on everything from barbecue to architecture, with a particular focus on music.

Another show is “M-Town Chowdown” with Chef Lewis Mable, who is the chef de cuisine at River Oaks Country Club. He saw an opportunity to help uplift fellow chefs during the pandemic, some of whom he’ll be sitting down with to discuss food and the restaurant business.

We’re also developing a music video show called “Diamond in the Bluff” that is being pitched as “106 & Park meets Wayne’s World.” They will be airing local music videos, along with artist interviews, skits, and more. It’s going to be a contemporary spin on the type of shows that MTV was once known for.

Finally, we’ll also be hosting “But for the Grace,” which is a documentary by Emmanuel Amido, one of my favorite documentarians. He takes a very pragmatic approach to his subjects, which I appreciate. “But for the Grace” focuses on the role of the church in the Civil Rights Movement and how it affects race. You may assume that the church is an important factor in helping to uplift marginalized groups, but the film shows that that isn’t necessarily true. It’s really a fascinating film.

What has been your process in finding content and content creators for the channel?

It has really been a journey (laughs). I initially thought that finding content would come naturally, but I’ve found that isn’t really the case. So far, it has been a mixture of people I know or people who have been connected to me through a mutual acquaintance. I think that springs from the fact that there has to be mutual trust in a relationship like this.

Once you make a film or a TV series, that’s your baby, and entrusting someone to be a proper caretaker can be scary for some people. You might not think that would be a barrier for filmmakers, but it actually is. They are understandably very particular about where they put their content, so part of my job is making sure that they trust me and the brand to treat their work with respect.

That said, we are always looking for new content, which people can submit through our website. Once they send in a pitch, I get a direct email and will respond to each within 24 hours.

When do you expect Memphis Centric to be available to the public?

We plan on doing a soft launch in late September, which will give us an opportunity to work through any kinks and to refine the product a bit. We hope to be fully launched by October with the initial slate of programming available, although as we discussed, we’ll be continuously adding new programming. For instance, one of the programs that I am very excited about is a cartoon from Darlene Newman called “Orange Mound Bound.” Because of the work that goes into animation, it likely won’t be available on the launch date, but will hopefully be airing soon after.

That leads into my next question, which is who is your target audience?

We really want to create a channel for everyone, with options that will appeal to every age group and demographic. And it’s not just for Memphians either. I want Memphis Centric to also serve as a destination channel, where people from all over the world can learn about our city and culture. As anyone in the Memphis tourist industry knows, the world loves Memphis, especially if we’re talking about countries such as Japan, Brazil, and Germany. This will give them an opportunity to get their Memphis fix and hopefully gain a more authentic view of the city.

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