December 05, 2016

Celebs: How Close Is Too Close?

Matt Damon 600x300

By ROBERT W. WELKOS

Actor Matt Damon enters the green room backstage at NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’ and is immediately confronted by comedian and fellow Jay Leno guest Larry the Cable Guy wielding a camera phone.

‘Okay, everybody, I promised, this is my dressing room after the big ‘Tonight’ show, Larry the Cable Guy says, and we zip around and there is my new buddy ‘go Big Red!’ Matty Damon!

‘Go Big Red,’ a pleasant but subdued Damon replies into the camera.

‘My gosh, it’s me and Matt!’ exclaims the clearly awestruck Larry the Cable Guy.

And who’s watching this live video from the green room? Why,anybody anywhere around the world who follows Larry the Cable Guy on a free mobile app called Hang With, or as it’s officially known, Hang W/.

Larry the Cable Guy, the blue collar stage persona created by comedian Daniel Lawrence Whitney, clearly relishes bringing his mini-broadcast to his followers on their iPhone, iPad or Android device.

And he’s not alone.

Rapper 50 Cent and more than 100 other celebrities and athletes have broadcast live on Hang W/. They include singer Paula Abdul,football great Terrell Owens, comedians Cheech and Chong and Jamie Kennedy, and popular DJ’s Chuckie and Kaskade.

Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas used Hang W/ at this year’s Super Bowl to take his followers on a personal tour inside the Broncos’locker room. ‘It’s just a little quick behind the scenes view of the locker room,’ he tells his viewers. Then zooming in on the gear in his locker, heads, ‘It’s what it’s all about right there.’

Record producer and rapper Timbaland (Timothy Zachery Mosley) even did a broadcast while relaxing at home with his adorable little daughter, Reign, as they sang a short rap tune for the hit maker’s fans. Itends with Timbaland asking Reign, ‘That’s it’ That’s all we doing ‘ Say,Goodbye, people.’ And she says, ‘Goodbye. Love you all.’

So what, exactly, is Hang W/?

It’s an app that connects people through live streaming and simultaneous chat, allowing anyone with an iPhone, iPad or Android device tobroadcast live to thousands of viewers. And, it could revolutionize how celebrities connect with their fans, whether it’s live streaming themselves at parties,performances, the red carpet or just taking followers along with them on their daily routines.

But celebrities have to be mindful of what information they put out since anyone can watch their broadcasts including stalkers.

‘Twitter is bad enough’ they’re putting themselves out therein print and photos and now they live stream it? If they have a stalker, it’s not safe. I mean, who would do that? Yeah, there are a lot of security concerns,’ said Steve Polak, a former LAPD detective and co-founder of Sunset Blvd.Investigations in L.A.. The firm provides celebrities with protection services.

‘The upside, I see what (they’re saying) it’s all for the fans,’ Polak added. ‘Fans are one thing. The fans are good people, but fans could be bad guys, too.’ If they were my client, I’d ask them, do you need that much attention right now like that?

‘Obviously, a guy in a locker room at the Super Bowl, who’s going to hurt him. But if you get an A-lister or, not even an A-lister why would they put themselves out there on front street? And along with the potential for stalkers,’ he noted, process servers might also be viewing the broadcasts to learn the celebrity’s current whereabouts.

Kent Moyer, president and CEO of the World Protection Group,which provides security at many Hollywood events, said celebrities who want to tweet or live stream to their fans should first take a little time and learn some security tips.

‘You don’t want to put locations of where you are or be able for someone to get your location by them seeing a background, say, of a certain restaurant,’ Moyer said. ‘Even if you’re at your house, there are tech savvypeople who can trace this stuff and end up at your doorstep.’

Released last March, Hang W/ surpassed 1 million downloads in the first nine months. That’s faster than Twitter at 24 months, Pinterest at 20 months, Foursquare at 13 months and even Facebook at 10 months, according to Andrew Maltin, the CEO and founder of Hang W/.

The downloads have been largely driven by social mediasupport from notable musicians, athletes, actors and entertainers who use theplatform to build a meaningful social media relationship with their fans, according to Hang W/.

Larry the Cable Guy is one example.

‘Larry the Cable Guy was actually broadcasting with Jay Leno and Matt Damon in the green room,’ Maltin said. ‘It was incredible to see it. Fans were going nuts saying, ‘Tell Matt Damon hello.’

It’s not only celebrities. Maltin said anyone can share their experiences live with friends, family and followers worldwide. The platform could be useful, he said, to motivational speakers, religious leaders or even politicians, anyone with a need to connect in real time with their followers or constituents.

Maltin said the idea for Hang W/ began germinating four years ago at his Orange County-based company, MEDL Mobile.

‘At that time, social media, in my mind, was becoming in authentic,’ Maltin recalled. You had Kim Kardashian tweet and say, ‘I love Heineken.’ Come on, clearly she was being paid to do this.

But building the mobile app wasn’t easy. ‘Just to do onebroadcast (requires) massive infrastructure to build,’ Maltin explained. ‘We have to build video technology that captures the images and then sends them to a server in real time and then sends them to multiple servers and then goes to the viewer.’

Hang W/ broadcasts can last 3, 6 or 9 minutes in length, but Maltin said a user can easily turn it off and immediately go back on and start filming again.

Maltin said his people monitor the broadcasts 24 hours a dayand if they see anything inappropriate, they will immediately shut it down. So, yes, there is censorship.

Still, 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson), was so jazzed that he became an investor in the project, as did Larry the Cable Guy.

‘We’re not looking for investors,’ Maltin stressed, ‘but celebrities make good investors.’

Maltin estimates that in six months or a year, the company will be selling advertisements on the broadcasts and whatever ad revenues they bring in will be shared with the celebrity.

Oddly enough, Maltin said A-list stars often aren’t the best celebrities to draw followers to the broadcasts.

‘A-listers really aren’t the best people for a platform like this,’ he said. ‘People would much rather watch Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen than Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. (Kardashian and Sheen) are people who are interested in social media and are willing to do more crazy things in general.’

Entertainers around the world can use Hang W/, he said. In India alone, he noted, Bollywood stars have legions of fans.

Where will the company be a year from now?

‘I think we’ll be pretty big,’ Maltin said. ‘I think we’ll be one of the killer social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.’

Welkos can be contacted at bobw@hollywoodnews.com

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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