John Petrocelli is the CEO and founder of live-streaming agency Bulldog DM, which has offices in Los Angeles and New York City. Previously an executive at AEG Digital Media, Petrocelli has led livestreaming work for events such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, the Grammys and the Oscars, among others.
He spoke with Crain’s about observing an industry from its infancy, when he entered the field in 2002, to its position as a media staple.
What was it like being in the industry as it was just developing?
It was an interesting evolution to go from the early days of a live market to it now being a highly-anticipated experience. Now, bands expect to be livestreamed and broadcasted out to their fan base and followers, which wasn’t the case nine years ago.
Early on at Incited Media, which is the company I sold to AEG, we had some forward-thinking clients. For example, maybe more than a decade ago, an MTV broadcast was streaming on AOL and we started to see people opting to view the stream because they would see bands finishing their sets. Most fans don’t get to see [the end of the set] because on the broadcast they’re switching to other performances.
We had always taken an approach that the streaming experience should be as close to a broadcast-grade experience as possible.
What are some of the factors that go into streaming such widely viewed events?
With these large events, it's important that the venue has the proper infrastructure and accessibility. We have to do site surveys to make sure all the necessary components are available for the event to be streamed successfully.
What draws you to this field and what’s kept you there?
We live in a hyper-connected world and around another 1 billion people are going to get internet connectivity within the next few years. Ironically, people have an increased interest in collaboration and participation. For me, that’s a very intriguing aspect of the world, where we can help be that conduit and bring those experiences to life.
If an experience is happening in a room of 100 people, a lot of people who would love the opportunity to be there can tune in and have that collaborative experience. That’s an exciting part of the business that’s still in an early state. You’ll still be able to get your content through traditional means, but you should be able to turn on any device and get a real connected experience in a livestream feed.
What challenges have you faced in the field?
Early on there were technical challenges. The industry was widely known for failures of livestreaming, due to the congestion, like we had in the early days with a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. That event was all the rage but the bandwidth didn’t sustain the audience.
Today, a lot of the traditional barriers to the live and digital broadcast marketplace have been eradicated. Everywhere we go now there’s almost always robust Wi-Fi, especially in most metropolitan areas. The real advancement also came with the advent of the smartphone. That’s when we saw the market just hyper-escalate.
It all happened very quickly in retrospect.
The relationship between the advertising community and livestreaming has changed too. That industry now sees this as a very powerful vehicle to connect with the consumer. We’ve seen [new] challenges as far as brand safety, like advertising next to fake news or inflammatory content.
Another issue has been the general awareness of the industry. I've been doing this for a while now and streaming has really only become considered an industry within the past year or so since the addition of Facebook Live.
Having devoted years to bolstering this industry, I'm thrilled it's sought-after, but my company had to do a lot of work to get here.
It's gone from a slow, glacial process to a very high-speed one, where you have to be able to shift quickly and be flexible, but it's very validating to see how far we've come.
What have been some of your proud moments?
We believe the power to broadcast is an impactful tool. We already know it's super impactful for news events, but in the music world, it's also an incredible opportunity for discovery.
We've seen our work with Snickers and Coke really being engaged with for extended amounts of time. It's a very different experience to be able to garner attention like that.
What advice do you have for those who are just entering the industry?
Everybody has a startup and they want it to get funded and move forward. It’s harder and harder to do that.
When you’re out there, customers are telling you what the problems are and what to anticipate. It forces you to think about how to solve those problems because if you can’t you won’t be successful or have command of market share and clients.
I’m a big believer in that approach and drawing attention to your business based on your independent success that you’ve been able to garner by going out there into the market and winning business.