7 things I loved & 7 constructive criticisms of Mario Armstrong’s #NeverSettleShow
Mario Armstrong’s #NeverSettleShow, presented by FedEx Office, concluded its first season last night with a bang. The revolutionary talk show, which was live-streamed Wednesday evenings from the Canary studio in Manhattan onto the Entrepreneur Facebook page, capped a successful first run with a visit from Shark Tank’s Daymond John. (Watch the show here!)
And while it’s a near-certainty there will be a second season, there are sure to be significant changes to the format as well. I attended three of the six episodes this season in person, and particularly last night, there was a predictable mix of resignation and optimism among the many, many moving parts of the crew. (I offered some insight into these conversations during this Periscope stream, if interested.)
Having loved the idea from the moment I heard of it, I’ve tried to be as involved as possible with the show from the beginning. Prior to the season, Mario and the team hosted “co-producers” meetings, where they’d spend an hour a week soliciting feedback from viewers that would help shape the direction of the show. I appeared on camera virtually during one meeting, and was blessed to be able to attend a second meeting in-person (!), sitting alongside Mario at Roker Media for another.
You may also have seen me introduce episodes №1 and №4 (with Sandra Centorino), and I was the first brave soul to accept Mario’s “Rap Your Pitch” challenge. (Watch it here!) And every time you saw a shot of Mario’s Emmy-laden bookshelf, the very first copy of my bold-looking yellow book was shining bright.
Don’t misinterpret this post — I’m the show’s biggest fan, and was incredibly proud to play a role in its first season. But with the first season in the rearview mirror, it’s the perfect time to break down what I loved about the show, and some aspects where it could be improved.
7 THINGS I LOVED ABOUT THE #NEVERSETTLESHOW
- The red-carpet pre-show with Ross Brand. I’ve long been a fan of Ross’s work with LiveStreamUniverse, and to package him as part of the #NeverSettleShow experience was a match made in heaven. The data backs it up: Ross Brand is Klout’s top live-streaming influencer, particularly because of his encyclopedic knowledge of the live-streaming genre, and it showed every time he was on camera. Adaptability during a chaotic live-stream like that is an invaluable skill, and no one on the planet is better positioned to conduct a series of interviews of live-stream pros like Jon Burk, Ben Ratner, Evie Yannakidis and so many more in a row. That there is a red-carpet pre-show in the first place is the perfect way to make everyone in attendance at the show feel like a star — which is exactly what Mario Armstrong and the crew were after. The red-carpet pre-show might benefit from assigning a camera operator to Ross, rather than making him hold up a selfie stick for an hour-plus, but that he’s able to one-man-show it is an even bigger testament to his dedication, stamina and professionalism.
- The two-to-four-minute pre-show countdown with Evie Yannakidis. What a coup for Mario Armstrong to have a talent like Evie on set to rile up the live crowd and, perhaps even more importantly, encourage the home audience to get their proverbial popcorn ready and share out the broadcast. Evie, a bubbly, hilarious and multi-talented Shorty Awards nominee, is a superstar in her own right, and I wonder if the team will look for ways to incorporate Evie even more into the show for Season 2.
- The production team, led by Ben Ratner. Imagine for a moment the pressure on the director of a live-streamed show like this. Most talk shows are highly orchestrated, pre-taped productions, and they are barely scratching the surface of social interactivity, if at all. The #NeverSettleShow flips that formula on its head — the show would be nothing without that critical social interactivity, and all season long, Ben Ratner and the team re-defined the limits of how a talk show must — must! — integrate live UGC from social into its content plan. The #NeverSettleShow must both be flawless and interactive live, AND have permanent replay-ability, and the NSS production team sparked from beginning to end. Here’s hoping some deep-pocketed network exec doesn’t come fishing for that production team, because they set new standards for what shows need to be doing in 2017 and beyond.
- Cathy Nolan! Cathy’s unique skill, to capture the essence of conversations throughout the course of the show, brought tremendous value to each of the five episodes she worked, and her presence was missed the week she was overseas. The guests and lucky audience members were consistently blown away by the quality, quick work she spun out on stage each night, and her caricatures are literally perfect gifts that will remind her lucky subjects forever how special their experience at the show was. As Mario re-evaluates what parts of the show stick around moving forward, Cathy should be at the top of the list.
- All the PA’s. Their work might not be as apparent if you’re watching at home, but for everyone who attended a show during the first season, we all recognized how valuable the work that team did was. The space always felt comfortable, safe and accomodating, and the experience is smooth and seamless from the moment you arrive at the studio to the moment you walk out the door. It takes a lot of work to bring together a happy, energetic, restful crowd for an hour-plus, and the entire staff did a consistently terrific job of making the Canary studio feel like a home away from home.
- The step-and-repeat photo booth. What a simple, yet perfect addition to the studio this booth was. Rocio Segura of Root Studios facilitated hundreds of perfectly sharp, lit and focused photos, and the direct integration with the tagboard behind Mario and the guests during the show put all that content on display during every show.
- Mario’s unparalleled energy. Our beloved host will go out of his way to credit all the many, many moving parts around him for making the show possible, but like the quarterback on a Super Bowl-winning team, there is no show without him. The truest essence of Mario’s stage presence is his never-ending energy, which translates extraordinarily well to the cozy studio, as well as almost every guest this season.
7 CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISMS OF THE SHOW
(Again, I *love* this show, but the best performers, athletes, musicians, etc., are always looking for ways to improve.)
- The somewhat unpredictable nature of the run of show. Throughout the season, the live audience was as invaluable asset, but from episode to episode, there were noticeable differences in the in-studio reactions. At the start of the season, Mario and the team emphasized that there were no physical, visual cues for the audience to laugh, cheer and otherwise react — a point that was gradually de-emphasized through the season. Because the experience is so new, so different, so outside-the-box for the attendees — most of whom are not necessarily live-streaming pros, or active co-producers who enter fully familiar with the format — I felt like some guidance from the crew would be welcomed.
- Smoother interactions between Mario, the social media desk and the production team. As I wrote earlier, all three elements here did a fantastic job all season long, but I see further room for improvement in terms of physically, visually highlighting the key comments that Evie and Shy are monitoring, when Mario turns for that interactivity. The comments appearing constantly across the bottom of the screen are great, but I can envision an even stronger way to highlight — maybe in a sponsored fashion — the best of the best comments coming across the screen.
- Live interactive video elements. The elephant in the room from a social media perspective is always Snapchat, because it naturally doesn’t play quite as well with other social media platforms. However, that individuality can translate extremely well to gathering video interactivity that can be displayed on the show. While this is a practice that needs to be done with caution and care, there are simple enough ways to connect Mario’s Snapchat account, or a Snapchat account built for the show, to appear live on screen. If assembled correctly, implementing Snapchat will open up huge avenues for more user-submitted video, since that’s generally much more common than recording a video separately and either emailing (which, as a submission channel, dropped off the face of the earth from the pre-season plans) or Tweeting/Instagramming.
- Better Twitter integration. As much as a behemoth that Facebook is — and it’s totally sensible that the show would be hosted on Facebook — there are still a lot of people who prefer consuming video content on other platforms, especially Twitter/Periscope. The biggest advantage to better integrating Twitter interactivity in Season 2 will be discoverability. There’s no reason why an event with as much juice as the NeverSettleShow shouldn’t be trending on Twitter week after week, and that can and should be on the big-picture list of measurable data goals.
- Clarification on Mario’s exact role. There’s no doubt that Mario, an Emmy Award-winning host, will perform well with whatever responsibilities he has during the show, but the question throughout the first season has been how to best implement his talents into the presentation. Segments like Mario’s Motivator are a great way for the host to share some valuable, actionable information, but at times they felt forced upon the run of show. How can Mario himself best be leveraged? It’s a question that will be asked every day between seasons.
- Product integrations/sales opportunities. One of the very best aspects of the first season was the presence of Berlin from Proud Pour, a wine company whose core mission supports positive environmental efforts. Having a “wine tasting” in studio was the perfect workaround after the team couldn’t secure a liquor license (which is expensive, time-consuming and bureaucratically taxing) for an on-site bartender, but as beautiful as the NeverSettleShow bar was, I would’ve loved to see more of an opportunity for Berlin to sell full bottles — available for pickup upon the end of the show — to the captive, affluent audience. If the wine tasting aspect carries into season 2, more signage/real estate should be afforded to the brand to physically sell product on-site. The same type of funnel opportunities could be offered to the on-site artist, who could book caricatures right there on the spot, and even possibly through kiosks in place for a major sponsor like FedEx Office.
- Bring back the co-producers meetings. This was the single biggest point that I emphasized to the NSS staff after each show. It had been suggested before the season officially began that these weekly meetings, which would allow the crowd to offer their input on the show’s creative direction, would continue; and, understandably, they got lost in the shuffle once the season kicked off. Without question, the co-producers meetings are a critical component of the show, and are still featured when Mario pitches the show to advertisers/networks. The meetings could certainly be constructed differently; could shift format; could appear on a different platform (like Periscope); could be one-on-one with Mario or continue to include the team; but no matter what approach they take, the meetings must return if the show is to retain that fully-crowd-produced flavor that was so apparent all season long.
Those are my big-picture thoughts, and now I’m curious for yours: What sort of changes do you think the #NeverSettleShow should take on? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments below, and Tweet to @NeverSettleShow to bring your ideas directly to the NSS team.
I’m certain, as well, that the team will be posting their own survey to collect feedback, and when that happens I’ll update this post to include a link to that as well.
I hope to see you in the live studio audience — wherever that may be — in Season 2. Keep in touch!
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Chris Strub is the first man to live-stream and Snapchat in all 50 U.S. states, and author of ’50 States, 100 Days: The Book,’ which was featured in Mario’s bookshelf for the duration of Season 1 of the #NeverSettleShow.