Behind Al Roker’s New Live-Streaming Network, A ‘Lost Cousin Of TV And Social’

RokerLive-streamed video is hitting its stride.

Both Twitter, which inked a 10-game streaming deal with the NFL, as well as Facebook, which gave consumers access to an expanded Facebook Live tab this week, want in on the action.

And on Thursday, Al Roker Entertainment, the production company owned by longtime NBC Today co-host and weatherman Al Roker, launched a live-streaming video network named Roker Media along with the founder of the sports network JRSportsBrief and a handful of other entertainment luminaries.

Ronald Pruett, Jr., its CEO, has deep expertise in direct-to-consumer marketing from his time as CEO of “As Seen On TV,” which sells the Snuggie.

“We knew that the future of marketing was live and that programming would be developed around this phenomena of ‘live’ globally,” he said, adding that the rise of the LSN is a brand-new ball game for marketers.

Pruett began advising Roker several years ago and helped facilitate the launch of RokerLabs, a creative studio that works with brands, agencies and creators, last year.

Now he’s applying his roots in commerce and DRTV to the world of live-streamed video.

Pruett spoke with AdExchanger about the launch of Roker Media and the long-term impact of live-streaming on agencies and marketers.

AdExchanger: Why develop a live-streaming network?

RONALD PRUETT, JR.: When Roker Labs was created [and launched at SXSW last year], we realized there were no scaled live-streaming networks. We sort of coined the term “LSN,” and we wanted to take the best of what we saw in the multichannel network world but work across many platforms and find the best audiences for the brands. If you’re an MCN, you’re on one platform, and it’s called YouTube. 

What’s your approach with brand advertisers?

You have all these other influencer networks geared toward other platforms, like Snapchat or Vine, but platforms and talent change. We thought that if we can pull together a network of talent across multiple platforms and not only sell the talent effectively as a package, but the time – like a television network – then brands would be comfortable in their purchase because it’d be similar to what they were already buying with TV.

What platforms do you work with?

We started on Meerkat and then Periscope. Because of Al’s notoriety, we were one of the first to work with Facebook Live. We started out with Camila Alves' (actor Matthew McConaughey’s wife's), show, "Camila's Code," and have been the only group doing a weekly live show on Facebook until recently. We also did our first live commerce show on Facebook about three weeks ago. The last platform we’ve been working with was YouNow, which has commerce and monetization built into the platform. We were able to collect data that would allow us to build better programming, shows and talent for brands.

Who’s competition?

The big content creator networks, Endemol Shine included, will get into the live space. But I really believe it’s a brand-new category. We realized this with Al, who is on for five hours a day. But this is where it gets scary with live, because when that light goes on, you have to be good on your feet. And this is a big challenge for brands and agencies because there are no agencies with live experience, despite what they tell you. Zero.

What about the Super Bowl Dunk In The Dark/war-room story?

This isn’t social media. Live-streaming is the long lost cousin of television and social media. You have a whole generation of marketers who will need to be trained on live.

Why is live-streaming hard for marketers to grasp?

I’ve worked with HSN and QVC and was always enamored by direct response and infomercials, because the folks behind those networks literally know their sales by the minute. It didn’t matter how big the viewer base was, necessarily; it was how many of them were buying. And I think it’s much more of a granular, ground-up marketing approach than many others can take.

Can you elaborate?

With live-streaming, I see a lot of the attributes of home shopping. There have been very few ways to monetize live streams. For instance, on Periscope, there are no ads running, so creators can’t monetize the way you would on YouTube through programmatic buys. Secondly, there’s no ecommerce functionality like a "buy now" button on a Periscope stream. And that’s been the case until recently with Facebook, and what we saw with Amazon buying the big gaming platform Twitch. The second round of streaming platforms, which includes Facebook Live, is looking at this as the next big commerce play.

Can you share an example?

We’ve worked a lot with food startups – like Plated and Blue Apron in New York – doing shows with Al in their testing kitchens. So why wouldn’t Plated or Blue Apron every night have their own live cooking show, where customers at home can watch their chef preparing the recipe? Interactivity will play a big part, and then, “Can I press a button and buy more ingredients, like a Dash button?”

What do you think of Twitter’s new NFL deal?

It’s a brilliant deal probably all around. But what else is happening there is that the NFL might realize that people in the stands are going to be Periscoping games, whether they like it or not. How many people in a football stadium of 90,000 people will be using Periscope? Doing a deal with Twitter will legitimize that behavior. If you can’t beat them, join them.

And Facebook Live?

Facebook is super smart, very methodical. I believe they’re placing bets both in live and virtual reality. It’s been a good platform for us to use because it’s stable and they have data they’ve shared, and over time, you can build an audience that suits you. Having said that, I think they have a unique opportunity to develop unique programming for their audiences, where it’s live but maybe more native. Instead of adding an existing league or wrestling or LiveNation with concerts, they’re now putting tools into the hands of creators who are building their own production companies. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

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