Al Roker Sets Out to Create the 'Live Fronts'

Roker Media and Brave Ventures Collaborate on NewFront-Style Event for Live Video

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Credit: Andrew Eccles/NBC
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Just when you thought you were finally done with the upfront parade, in comes Al Roker.

The "Today" show host wants to give live video its own stage to pitch advertisers in an event this fall akin to the Digital Content NewFronts.

Mr. Roker's newly formed Roker Media, in conjunction with Brave Ventures, a strategic advisory firm, is creating the "Live Fronts" as a way to showcase the opportunities for marketers and content producers on platforms like Facebook Live, Periscope and YouNow, while at the same time hanging the open-for-business sign.

The event will take place in October in New York City and is open to "anyone in the business of live streaming," said Jesse Redniss, co-founder, Brave Ventures.

The hope is the event will be bigger than just Mr. Roker's company showcasing their live programming and talent. The goal is to gather about a dozen people from agencies, TV networks and influencers to discuss live video initiatives, data transparency and measurement, Mr. Redniss said.

Certainly, live video has received plenty of hype in recent months as Facebook, in particularly, builds out its live broadcasting capabilities. While some marketers have experimented with their own live streams of events or product launches, the opportunity for brands to advertise in or around live streams is limited.

It's unlikely advertising in live video will take the form of pre-roll, predicted Ronald Pruett Jr., chief adviser, Roker Media. Instead, the so-called "Live Fronts" will showcase product placement and show sponsorship opportunities.

Mr. Pruett, who previously ran As Seen on TV, also believes commerce can play a big part in live video. He points to Amazon's live series, "Style Code Live," which he says was predominantly designed to "sell stuff" for the e-commerce giant.

But does the industry really need another version of the upfronts, when historically TV networks showcase their new programming in an effort to sell commercial time for the new fall season? As it is there's been plenty of criticism around the NewFronts, digital video's chance to take a share of those ad dollars.

The content from these publishers, for the most part, doesn't come close to the quality of TV series, and many times the content pitched to advertisers in the spring never even sees the light of day.

Brave's Mr. Redniss said they didn't want to lump live video in with the NewFronts, which has become overcrowded with more than 70 presentations over the two-week period that leads into broadcast TV's dog and pony shows.

"Live video deserves a concentrated day," Mr. Redniss said.

"Live video is a unique category sandwiched between traditional TV and social media," Mr. Pruett said, in justification of the event.

With Facebook Live dominating conversations, and YouTube rumored to be nearing an announcement around live, Mr. Pruett said there are a batch of "live networks" emerging that will need content and present an opportunity for advertisers.

What makes live video different than recorded, he said, is that it allows for interaction and the ability to bring viewers into the program in real time in a way TV or recorded video can't. For this reason, live video requires a new set of rules and batch of influencers.

Roker Media, which officially launched in April, is developing talent that's native to live video.

"An influencer can be good on YouTube, but going live is very different and not many can make the transition," Mr. Pruett said.

The company is also creating content that's specifically designed for live streaming in categories like food, music, sports, lifestyle and general entertainment, as well as hybrid content that can be morphed from a live stream into more traditional TV programming, Mr. Pruett said.

Live programming Roker Media will be showcasing at the Live Fronts includes an interactive talk show hosted by Mario Armstrong, who regularly appears on the "Today" show; a sports series hosted by NBA All-Star Paul Millsap; a matchmaking show where the relationships are decided by the audience; and a show following the planning of the wedding of spin instructors at JoyRide. All of the shows include an interactive element that allow viewers to participate, communicate with or influence the content in some way.

The matchmaking series, "Ship It Or Tip It" has had 400,000 views over the first 10 episodes, according to Roker Media.