A mobile TV crew sets up in a pet-adoption agency. Soon, a bunch of rowdy dogs and cats are doing their thing for a short segment--live, before Al Roker as emcee.

Al Roker (or a talent of his choosing) and a bunch of exuberant animals on a live broadcast, seen nationwide on handhelds? Hmm...What could possibly go wrong?

Well, exactly. The pet show, or others in lifestyle subjects--when tied to a passionate audience and in the hands of a skilled talent--will be must-watch video.

That's the vision of Roker Media, a 2016 startup and an outgrowth of Roker's long-time production efforts. And to celebrate that vision, the company is co-sponsoring (with Brave Media Ventures) October's Live Fronts. Live Fronts will bring agencies and producers together on the emerging concept of live media transmitted over social media applications.

Live streaming is the coming thing. Twitter is trying NFL broadcasts; Facebook Live was the choice for Donald Trump's impromptu Debate 2 news conference.

In a sense, the technology--low-cost production and video receivers in every pocket and purse--has just caught up to Roker himself, who entertains us, live, in the moment on NBCUniversal's Today show.

But not many folks realize that Roker has been a TV producer for over 20 years. He's done projects in everything from food to floods. And that background uniquely qualifies him for the new live-entertainment venture. His Roker Media deputy, Ronald C. Pruett, Jr., says that Roker is consciously following in the footsteps of talents Dick Clark and Merv Griffin, who built major production companies by focusing on what they knew best.

Making a Living by Living in the Moment...

Roker didn't set out to be on TV. He originally wanted to be a writer or producer. And after getting his start as a weekend TV weatherman, he considered a full-time move to business. But Willard Scott, the veteran weatherman, gave Roker some fateful advice: "Be yourself. And never give up your day job."

He followed that recommendation. And 40 years later, Al Roker is to live TV what the Dalai Lama is to meditation: an unparalleled expert steeped in long practice.

"I'm a creature of "live,'" he says. "I love live TV--there's a spontaneity to it. And there's always the a question of what's going to happen. Even when you quote-know what's going to happen." His interests run to familiar subjects: comedy, lifestyle, travel, food. Pretty much anything where the risks--in the song set, the food preparation or the scuba dive--can't be escaped. To Roker, that's what makes it must-watch.

And let's face it, "streaming" is TV. "If it's on a screen, it's TV," he says. "Not the same TV we grew up with, but essentially the same experience. And that live experience will always be part of the national conversation."

Broadcasting on social media is not the same as using social media, which Roker finds to be isolating. "You see a cat video-you send or post it or whatever. But TV--whether it's on a phone or on a computer screen...it's more communal."

...And Making Live Thrive

Roker thinks of his CEO role in a few ways. One is to be the producer, deciding what will work based on his own understanding of the audience.

The second role is to curate talent, where he's looking for authenticity. "Let's face it," Roker says. "Some talent is born to be produced. And other talent is great for 'live.' But don't tell me you're going to be the next Martha Stewart, or Oprah...No, you're not! Be yourself!"

Does he sell? Absolutely. After all, the greats did their own sales meetings, or "pitches." "Ten years ago, I was leaving a production meeting, and waiting in the vestibule is Dick Clark. And I think, 'Dick Clark does his own pitches?'" The lesson is that when the leader is engaged, decision makers think: "'We'll take that meeting.'"

The venture is in its early days. He sees it following in some storied footsteps. He mentions Oprah's vision and Regis Philbin's passion. But ultimately, it's the content:

"There's an aspirational, dream quality to this. We'll take you to places you don't normally go."

Published on: Oct 12, 2016
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