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the free speech online [blue ribbon campaign]. It was against the censorship of content on the Internet. Anyone who supported the campaign posted a blue ribbon on their site. We decided to come up with something similar, our own symbol,” says Palmer.
Indeed, Palmer and Samuel were able to get other sites to affix an icon on their homepages referred to as the “binary MC.” Within a 12-month period, SOHH grew from three to 75,000 members. In addition to daily hip-hop news, reviews, commentary, and a worldwide discussion board, SOHH provided tips and techniques for Web developers. A major feature area was search online hip-hop, a search engine containing a database of more than 10,000 Websites.
Unable to get financial support for their venture-this time, sponsorship dollars-from major record labels, the partners took on outside work. Palmer became the new media manager for Essence magazine in 1996, where she launched and oversaw the daily operations of Essence online and co-produced the “Essence Virtual Makeover,” a CD-ROM title by Segasoft. Samuel did freelance Web development work for companies such as CVS and Chrysler.
The turnaround came in 1997 when the Netpreneurs created the Online Hip-Hop Awards. SOHH did a Webcast with a streaming multimedia site, 88HipHop.com, announcing the award winners of the best in hip-hop music and Websites. “You had kids, 14 and 15 years old, who were coming home after school and building fan-dedicated sites that had better content and were more informative than those produced by a lot of the major record labels,” says Samuel. “We created the awards to pay homage to the efforts [of these young Web masters] and their hard work.”
Taking it up a notch in 1999, the production integrated an offline marketing campaign in 500 retail stores nationwide, an online promotional campaign across more than 50 Websites (including the Source.com and Vibe.com) and a star-studded ceremony broadcast live over the Net. Similar to the People’s Choice Awards, some 500,000 fans cast their votes.
Last year’s awards show cost a little under $10,000 to produce; all of which was self-financed by Palmer and Samuel. The 2000 awards ceremony was sponsored by TWEC.com, the Arizona Jean Co., and Yahoo! Music. It was also broadcast on WQHT Hot 97 radio. “We have come a long way from last year, when I couldn’t pay my mortgage, to this year,” says Palmer, who raised $500,000 in sponsorship. “The bottom line is that there are only a few ways you can make money on the Web-advertising, sponsorship, and e-commerce.”
SOHH had a major coup this year when it partnered with Urban Box Office (UBO) Network, a new media company that was co-founded by the late George Jackson, the former movie producer and CEO at Motown. UBO is a multimillion dollar venture catering to urban lifestyle and culture via a collection of sites covering music, animation, news, and entertainment. In addition, UBO offers free ISP, e-mail, personal homepages, and e-commerce solutions.
In exchange for a minority equity stake, UBO brought cash to the table-more than $2 million-office