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Genius Interview: Brielle Urssery

From an early rise through the ranks, gaining unmatched understanding of FAST, to becoming the programming mastermind behind a zesty new streaming start-up; Brielle Urssery has been a voice for change when it comes to the diversification of our TV screens

Q: Your career spans a variety of household names in terms of service providers. A good place to start might be the eight years you spent with BET (Black Entertainment Television) – tell us about that.

BRIELLE URSSERY: My time at BET started in the programming scheduling and acquisitions department as a co-ordinator. Within eight years, I worked my way up from assistant to director of programming and scheduling, where I led boththe cable and digital channels.

Those channels included BET Jams, BET Gospel and the launch of BET+. I was also part of the building, curating, scheduling and launching of BET’s best channels for Pluto TV, following its major acquisition by Viacom.

The word I’d use to describe my experience there is fulfilling. It was a brand I grew up with, and it was always a part of my life. I was in my freshman year at Spelman College in Atlanta when Barack Obama was elected, which was a big moment for an HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) campus. BET was there, capturing the scenes on the day.

BET being my first job was a real full-circle moment for me. Seeing it grow not only from an industry perspective in the way it adopted new models such as SVOD, AVOD and FAST, but also from an original programming perspective. While I was there, we launched the BET Experience; a festival of sorts, centred around the BET Awards. It really was the first of its time, before Essence Festival and others catering for African Americans in the US. 

My time at BET was a rich experience that has changed the way I look at how to serve the Black audience; priming me for Roku and now Mansa.

Q: What was the impact of working for a channel that you grew up with?

BRIELLE URSSERY: You get to see how the cookies are made. It goes without saying; anyone working in TV forever watches it a different way. 

I found that, not only do you watch it differently, but you get a really distinct understanding and appreciation of what you see; the images and the stories being told. 

BET was unique in a sense; as a network we had a responsibility to our audience. Any media company aiming to truly, authentically and responsibly serve a marginalised or under-represented group of people will understand what I mean by that. 

At BET, that responsibility for us was to provide quality entertainment for the Black community, something that wasn’t easy. However, it was just a part of what we did every day. You quickly learn that programming isn’t just a case of looking at a list from a distributor and choosing a title. 

But it also meant, when you watch your work play out and see the feedback on Twitter or even from family and friends, there’s a sense of pride. It’s been an incredible mission and it is rare to be able to say, at every place I’ve worked, I’m there to serve under-represented audiences: predominantly at BET, then the Black community at Roku and now at Mansa serving African Americans and Black African diaspora abroad.

Q: The next stage of your career took place at Roku. What was that like?

BRIELLE URSSERY: At Roku, I launched its first owned and operated FAST channel – the Roku Channel – in December 2021. Later, I launched more for them, including a Project Runway-built channel.

In addition to leading the growth for the FAST owned and operated channels, I also led content for both the diverse and inclusive side of things. I took both of these responsibilities and wrapped them up in one, launching The Block last November. The Block is a Black movie and TV channel that is available on the Roku Channel as we speak. 


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