Live online broadcasting has in recent years become an increasingly crowded segment of the media. Services such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter—which acquired Periscope in 2015—compete with YouNow and other standalone offerings to get users to watch and interact with live content.
Gravy Live, a Madison, WI-based startup that was formed last year but just recently came out of stealth mode, is betting that it can bring a fresh angle to livestreaming. The company markets itself as “The World’s First Liveshow Platform,” perhaps a questionable claim given all of the different ways people can broadcast themselves live on the Internet—though Gravy has something specific in mind.
Co-founder Mark McGuire acknowledges that livestreaming is a “crowded, noisy space,” but he believes Gravy’s combination of production tools and marketing arrangements to help show hosts make money from their content—in part by working with brands—gives the company a chance to stand out.
“We’ve been enamored with the power of live and the ability for it to create these very authentic, personal, and direct relationships between a content creator and his audience,” McGuire says. “We saw an opportunity to give people the chance to have a live show, not just a livestream.”
Gravy had unveiled seven of its founding show hosts as of Friday, ranging from a trio of barbecue experts to a fitness guru. Some of them have followings in excess of a million people on other video and social media platforms. The first shows are set to begin in September, McGuire says.
McGuire says what he categorizes as livestreams—when “people grab their phone throughout the day and kind of just turn it around on themselves and go live”—are, for the most part, “kind of boring.”
“There aren’t a lot of tools there for these hosts, these creators, to make engaging live content,” he says.
The founding hosts listed on Gravy’s website all have short teaser videos promoting their upcoming shows. Several of them emphasize that Gravy is designed to be more interactive than other livestreaming platforms. Viewers can send questions to hosts mid-show and could even be “invited on stage,” Ryan Alvarez, half of the duo behind “Husbands that Cook,” says in his show’s teaser. (Presumably this will happen in a virtual manner.) A few hosts also discuss plans for product reviews, giveaways, and “flash sales.”
McGuire and co-founders Brian Wiegand and Craig Andler are all serial entrepreneurs, perhaps best known for leading another Madison-based Internet startup, Jellyfish. It was acquired by Microsoft in 2007 for a reported $50 million.
Jellyfish’s core product was an e-commerce search engine that allowed brands to make payments to move products further up a user’s list of search results. Jellyfish would also then lower the price of the product, which in theory increased the odds the shopper would decide to purchase it. Brands are also part of the equation with Gravy, McGuire says.
“One of the innovations and differentiators we have is a very unique way to get brands involved in the live show content,” McGuire says.
That’s reflected in Gravy’s initial batch of shows, which will cover cooking, personal development, beauty and fashion, and other subjects that lend themselves to product promotion and branding. For example, brands that choose to be involved with a show about beauty and fashion would likely be companies that sell cosmetics and clothes. McGuire declined to say whether viewers will be shown ads during Gravy’s live shows.
Many of the Gravy hosts already have large followings on other video and social networking platforms. For example, more than 1.2 million people follow cooking show hosts The BBQ Pit Boys on Facebook. Health and fitness guru Scott Herman has more than 1.5 million YouTube subscribers.
McGuire says his team expects some of those fans to follow Gravy’s hosts when they begin streaming shows on the new platform.
“We need talented content creators to come in, create shows, and pull their audiences in,” he says.
Gravy does not plan to impose any sort of exclusivity agreements on its hosts, McGuire says. Part of the startup’s pitch to prospective hosts is that Gravy has developed “some very interesting ways to help them monetize the audiences that they have,” he says.
However, McGuire says that for now, he “can’t really get into the revenue model specifics.” He also declined to comment when asked whether the shows Gravy will stream might be simultaneously streamed on other video platforms.
Users who are unable to watch a show’s livestream will have the ability to “engage with the content after the fact,” McGuire says.
In order to continue building buzz, McGuire says Gravy plans to reveal a new host every two to three days leading up to next month’s launch.
The startup has eight employees in Madison, and also has an office in Minneapolis, where McGuire is based. He said he’d prefer not to reveal how many employees work from the Minnesota office.
Gravy raised slightly more than $1 million from investors in a seed funding round that closed earlier this year, McGuire says. Little Chute, WI-based New Capital Fund led the round. Several individual investors, some of whom backed previous ventures of Gravy’s founding team, also participated.