By Barry Janoff
December 13, 2016: Padlokt, an Australian-based online start-up, wants to take fans of sports stars and movie and music celebrities places they would likely never get to go on their own.
Where other social media sites might try to take people within texting distance of their idols, Padlokt is bringing people closer than hailing distance and, in many cases, right into their inner sanctums, be it their living rooms, dens, gyms or other areas of solitude.
The platform, which had its official launch last week, is centered around a two-way video chat that is pre-arranged by Padlokt and the athletes and celebrities on its roster. Each talent, club or league signed by Padlokt gets their own Talent Channel, where subscribers also gain access to exclusive news, information, upcoming schedules or appearances and videos.
(Each channel costs $1.99 per month, which in turn provides unlimited access to all content published on that specific platform. Fans are allowed to subscribe to as many channels as they like, with each separate channel for $1.99. Details here.)
Among those who currently have their own Paklokt Talent Channels are Julius Randle (NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers), wide receiver Randall Cobb (NFL’s Green Bay Packers), four-time Olympic gold medal winner in track and field and TV personality Sanya Richards-Ross, former UFC fighter and now actor Marquel Martin; and Adam Hollioake, former professional crick player (England and Surrey), MMA fighter and boxer (who also is a Padlokt co-founder and its director of global partnerships).
Paklokt also has signed a deal with UFC to provide live video interactions with and receive exclusive content from some of its top current and former UFC athletes. UFC fighter Miesha Tate did a live chat earlier this month, and several are planned for the coming weeks.
Worldwide media agency Ogilvy is part of the group of "private strategic investors" bringing Padlokt to life.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Trent Sydney, managing director and co-founder for Padlokt (far right), who was in the company's office in Australia (with Hollioake, middle, and Jason Blewitt, director and co-founder, far left), via the platform's video-chat link, about Padlokt’s place in the current and future media, sports and entertainment landscape.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How did the concept of Padlokt come about?
Trent Sydney: We wanted to create an environment where fans could get much closer to their idols. And to create an environment that is not hidden behind text messages and static images. This is live-streaming. This is real human conversation. This gives people an opportunity to speak with athletes and celebrities they might never have the opportunity to speak with, and to get a glimpse of their inner sanctum.
NYSJ: Your initial roster includes UFC, Julius Randle (pictured below), Randall Cobb and other star athletes. How did those alliances come about?
TS: We approached UFC directly. We presented the platform and the concept. And they loved it. You can see how creative they are about connecting their talent with fans and the public. For the UFC, it’s all about their fans. With the other athletes, we had contact with agents or reps, and Julius, Randall, Sanya Richards-Ross and the others were excited to become part of Padlokt.
NYSJ: Are you having conversations or do you plan to have conversations with other athletes and sports teams, leagues or organizations?
TS: We are. And we are talking about a global basis. Fans love talking to their favorite athletes. They love having a personal connection. And with Padlokt they can do that from anywhere in the world. The talent can be anywhere in the world.
NYSJ: Do you have built-in filter or five-second delay so that conversations don’t get nasty or obscene?
TS: People can access the exclusive content but they can’t (hack into it) to change anything. As far as the two-way conversation, it is a controlled environment. It is moderated by someone from Padlokt who is not seen or heard during the conversations. And the athletes, the talent, control the messaging and conversations. It is a safe environment for the talent and the fans, but there are safety measures in place so that things don’t get crazy. If someone who has subscribed to be on Padlokt starts doing something crazy during the live conversations, we cut them off and they are gone from the platform.
NYSJ: How do the conversation times come about?
TS: With each athlete or organization, as in the case of UFC, we book time with them that is most convenient for them. We then go to the fan base, the people who have subscribed to each Talent Channel, as we call them, and let them know when Julius Randall, Randall Cobb or Sanya Richards-Ross (pictured below) will be available for a conversation. The fans submit questions, which we give to the talent. We already have a number of UFC talent booked for conversations this month. If there is a change in plans, if the talent cannot be there for a prearranged conversation, we let people know and we work to reschedule.
NYSJ: What plans do you have are far as marketing support?
TS: We will focus heavily on digital and social media on Facebook and Twitter (#ClosestFan) and elsewhere. But word-of-mouth is extremely important. The UFC, for example, is talking about Padlokt with all of its athletes and they in turn spread the word to their fans. Julius Randle will tell other (NBA) players. Randall Cobb will talk about it with his teammates and others in the NFL.
NYSJ: How are people able to access Padlokt?
TS: It sits on Amazon Web Services. It is scaled to be global. We work with resources in their major regions around the world. When you are talking about video, you need to have those resources in place to handle the demand. We are built to handle very large numbers. And with the talent that we are dealing with, the UFC, for example, their fan base is astronomical. And we are ready to take on those numbers.
NYSJ: Is it too early to tell if athlete word-of-mouth is working?
TS: We are getting inquiries from the agents or agencies of the talent we already have signed regarding their other clients, as well as from agents and agencies who are hearing about it. It is still early, but we see that strategy really working.
NYSJ: Do you have a list of top-tier athletes and celebrities you would like to see using Padlokt?
TS: Of course. And the thing about the platform is that we do not have a specific demographic target. We want to have a talent roster that targets a variety of age brackets. So if there is someone in sports or a celebrity who appeals to a variety of demographics we would be interested. Then you have athletes and celebrities who appeal to a teen audience, sports stars who appeal to the 16-25-year-old audience and then athletes and celebrities who appeal to a broader, older audience. So we are working on that.
NYSJ: Would you align with talent for a particular event, say an actor or actress from a major movie that is coming out, Rogue One, for example, or a summer blockbuster? Or if UFC would want to do something live from one of their events.
TS: We can do that. We can do this from anywhere around the world. With the UFC, we would have to adjust because of the television rights they have. But we could do it in a locker room. In the athlete’s favorite gym. If they are at home. But the best thing about the platform is that it’s not just about the two-way video piece; it’s about streaming of video, as well. So if you could imagine getting the chance to talk to an actor, and also seeing a snippet from their movie and talking to them about it live, we can do that.
"This is how Padlokt is changing social media forever. We are creating a situation where it is not someone reading text or answering questions: It is live."
NYSJ: Twitter has been live-steaming NFL games and just week did a live stream event with the cast from Rogue One. With Padlokt, do you see this type of presentation of entertainment becoming more popular?
TS: This is how Padlokt is changing social media forever. We are creating a situation where it is not someone reading text or answering questions: It is live. You talk to them and they answer you. You can hear the inflections in my voice, see the expressions on my face. You get the real connotation of what I am saying.
NYSJ: Where did the name Padlokt come from?
TS: At the start, we threw around a lot of ideas. In the end, we felt that Padlokt was unique. But the main idea was that we wanted to secure the content and create a secure environment for the athletes and celebrities, and a secure environment for people to ask questions in a live format. So it is a secure platform, and we give people the keys to open it. And letting them unlock the doors to see a the inner sanctum of a celebrity.
NYSJ: Are you working with advertisers and sponsors? Is that something that would be built in to your platform?
TS: We are working on that. But it won’t be disruptive. It will be woven into the platform and organic, not something that would distract from what we are doing and building?
NYSJ: Are the athletes allowed to bring in their own sponsors and marketing partners?
TS: The talent themselves have full control over their environment and which advertisers are on their channel. And we work with them to avoid any conflict. So if an athlete has a deal with McDonald’s we would not have Carl’s Jr. involved with anything the athlete does for us. If they have deal with Nike, they can wear Nike shoes, a Nike T-shirt. And it they want, they can talk about any deals they have and any sponsored events they have. But they have to be careful to make it part of the conversation. Again, it has to be organic. It can't be an athlete talking live with someone on Padlokt and then suddenly stopping to do a commercial. People don’t come here for that. It would turn them away, and we are not looking for that.
TS: I have a question for you: Who would you want to speak with on Padlokt?
NYSJ: I’m thinking about current or retired athletes, musicians or movie stars who don’t or can’t travel much so there is very limited access to them. Older sports legends who don’t get out much. This would seem the perfect vehicle for them to continue to interact with fans.
TS: That is part of what we had in mind with Padlokt. Even with current players, when you think about it, they have to go to events, they have to travel, they are often put in uncomfortable situations, where they not only can feel uneasy but makes for a situation where the athletes are not at their best and not responding the way they might want to. With Padlokt, you can see them being very relaxed. They are at home. They are playing with their dog. They are sitting back in their favorite room. It is not contrived. It all feeds into that relaxing environment that we want.
NYSJ: Technology is continuously changing, improving and being upgraded. Do you have a plan for upgrades built in to your strategy?
TS: We’ve been planning to incorporate future technology from the time we first conceived Padlokt. Things that are in development, things that are in early stages of conversation. All along we have been planning to take this to new levels. The technology is constantly changing and we have developed platforms to stay ahead and keep looking forward. We want to facilitate that real fan engagement, and to make Padlokt a space that people associate with great fan engagement. But it’s not just about the technology. It’s about the whole experience. It’s about getting fans closer to their idols.