Chris Witherspoon: Amplifying the Voices of Minority TV and Film Junkies

Through the PopViewers app, anyone can be a TV and film critic

Chris Witherspoon has been working in the entertainment industry long enough to feel the lack of diversity, so he built an app to amplify everyday minority film junkies looking for community.

A portrait of Chris Witherspoon.

Photo Credit: Taylor Miller

Witherspoon is the founder and CEO of PopViewers, an app for TV and film fans to build digital communities around their favorite content. The entertainment journalist was inspired to launch his own tech company after seeing a need for more diverse critics in the cinema industry. 

"I realized that the playing field is not leveled, so I created a platform that amplifies the voices of everyday viewers, marginalized viewers, and diverse communities," Witherspoon told Lifewire in a phone interview.

"Ultimately, I want people to use this platform to influence Hollywood and make the change in content that I believe that we can."

PopViewers launched in 2018, but the company's flagship iOS app didn't hit the market until December 2020. Outside of wanting to amplify voices, Witherspoon said PopViewers intends to help consumers decide what to watch next.

App users can like and dislike TV shows and movies, make watch lists, provide short video reactions to content, dive into conversations with other viewers, and more. Each TV show and movie also gets a crowdsourced score that other viewers can view when picking content to watch. 

Quick Facts

  • Name: Chris Witherspoon
  • Age: 38
  • From: Warren, Ohio
  • Favorite Game to Play: Fortnite, with personal lessons from his 9-year-old son, Andrés.
  • Key quote or motto he lives by: "If you don’t see the example, be the example."

From Ohio to the Big Apple 

Witherspoon grew up in a "blue-collar town," as he describes it, and while he didn't have cable growing up, the daytime talk shows and Saturday night movies inspired him the most. He said TV and movies were a way for him to escape a life that he felt he shouldn't be living. 

"We struggled a lot as a family. We went through many obstacles in terms of financial security," Witherspoon said. "I never really was surrounded by people who were successful and living out these wild professional dreams and desires." 

For the past 10 years, Witherspoon has been working as an entertainment journalist, formerly working for Fandango, NBCUniversal Media, CNN, and The Grio. During his tenure at Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes, Witherspoon would watch early screenings of films and TV shows, sometimes six to nine months before their release. 

"We want more minorities to be able to have a seat at tables with tech companies like this. We will be successful, and I want people to get in now and have a piece of this pie."

"What I recognized when I was in these rooms was that I was one of the only people that looked like me," Witherspoon said. "Eighty percent white men surrounded me, and they get to go write the reviews in the major publications about these TV shows and movies that inform the country."

Witherspoon said it's those reviews that ultimately influence box office returns and the award circuits. He said he hopes the analytics from PopViewers will play a key role in helping content creators to "get it right." Ultimately, he wants Hollywood to look to PopViewers as the "definitive voice of the viewer." 

Based in New York, PopViewers has a team of six employees. The company worked with a development team in the Dominican Republic to bring its flagship app to life. PopViewers tested its first app prototype throughout the summer of 2019. By February 2020, the company hosted focus groups with real users to get feedback for the current app.

"When the pandemic hit in March, we kept our heads down, and we worked remotely," Witherspoon said.

Growth and Inspiration

Witherspoon said he was very blessed to close a successful funding round of $1.4 million from friends and family back in September 2019. MSNBC's Joy Reid was one of those early investors and primary motivators that pushed Witherspoon to launch his app. PopViewers is currently trying to raise another $5 million to continue its growth. 

The PopViewers app overview that appears on the Apple Store.

PopViewers

"Since completing our friends and family round and getting our product to launch, there is still an uphill climb for us," Witherspoon said. "I'm definitely in a whole new playing field when approaching investment firms that are requiring me to access a set of tools that I've never had to use in my life."

As far as growth plans, Witherspoon said PopViewers is working on building an online platform around the app's engagement. The platform includes daily blogs, in-depth sentiments from viewers on the app, and a weekly "What to Watch" column. 

"A lot of people have been telling me that PopViewers for them is the thing that they open up on the weekends and ask what should I watch?" he said. "We're curating this experience of what to watch next across all platforms in real-time."

Witherspoon said that because of the organic promotion he's been doing, the app mainly attracts Black and other minority users. PopViewers has about 3,000 monthly active users, with more than 60,000 pieces of content rated on the app thus far.

Witherspoon said engagement per session is up by 44% since the app's release, with users staying on the app for an average of 4 minutes, 24 seconds. 

"I realized that the playing field is not leveled, so I created a platform that amplifies the voices of everyday viewers, marginalized viewers, and diverse communities."

This year, Witherspoon said he's most looking forward to closing his company's current venture capital round, building out PopViewers' Android app, and pushing its crowdsourcing campaign.

As a Black and gay tech founder, Witherspoon said it's essential for him to set an example for young minorities, so he wants to go on an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) tour to speak with Black college students. 

"We want more minorities to be able to have a seat at tables with tech companies like this," Witherspoon said. "We will be successful, and I want people to get in now and have a piece of this pie."

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