My favorite quote is: "Climb every mountain." My favorite activity is: Stairmaster
Bringing community and power to media consumers
RECOGNIZING YOUR PASSION: Television shows and films have been the soundtrack of Chris Witherspoon's life. They were an anchor during his childhood as his parents struggled to make ends meet and often moved the family around for work. "We didn't have much, but we always had a TV in the house with three channels. I always connected around TV in ways that most kids my age didn't." Little did he know then that it would lead him to work with the most powerful people in TV on America's most prominent networks – and eventually launch his own company.
The business, PopViewers, is an app that enables everyday people to react to what they are watching in real time via video or comments. The company is the result of his 15 years of experience working in the TV industry. As an assistant to top executives at NBC, he had a rare bird's eye view of some of the media's most influential people and spotted a market gap.
"I wanted to create something that amplifies the voices of marginalized communities. But on the other side, it provides analytics around sentiment toward shows to the studios and content creators. From my previous jobs, I know how hard it is to get analytics around why particular shows are resonating."
Chris' story is one of resilience, tenacity and bravery. After his family was evicted from their homes three times before he was 17, he found a way to put himself through college, attending Ohio University. With his family and the entire community's support, he was determined to make the most of the opportunity. In his senior year, he secured his big break: an internship in New York City at Good Morning America. "I knew I was one of the only black interns and one of the only gay ones, so I ensured I used the opportunity to take up space and bring all of me to my assignments to stand out."
After the internship, Chris was thrust into the media journalism space and became an entertainment correspondent for TheGrio, a news and entertainment network geared toward African Americans. The idea for PopViewers was born here after covering news such as #OscarsSoWhite and Black Lives Matter stories through an entertainment lens.
EMPOWERING REAL ENTERTAINMENT FANS. "I began noticing that these micro conversations happening in the black news sphere and other marginalized communities were having macro effects in the newsrooms. Similarly, certain shows and films were getting a lot of buzz in the black community and were over-indexing in terms of box office return and conversations online but weren't necessarily resonating with critics."
In a full circle moment, Chris had gone from an assistant to a founder and CEO. Without a traditional business background, he leaned into his deep and varied TV industry experience and discovered many people were keen to support his enterprise. "It required me as a leader to be vulnerable, authentic, and not pretend I knew everything. I learned that early on, which I believe has helped me succeed."
With Chris' insight and backing from the industry, PopViewers is flourishing as a community-based platform helping folks discover what to watch next. In challenging moments, Chris often recalls the advice given to him by a woman at his local church as he was preparing to leave for college at 17: "If you don't see the example, be the example. Looking back, I've always told myself it's okay to pull my seat up to the table where I don't see others who are showing up like me, who don't express themselves the way I do. I show up the way I know how and bring all the passion of who I am. The more I've done that in my life, the more magic I've seen happen."