Bryce Papenbrook, David Vincent Chat Unlocked

by Bamboo Dong,

Fans may recognize veteran voice actors Bryce Papenbrook (Attack on Titan, Sword Art Online) and David Vincent (Fate/Zero, Kill La Kill) from their work in a number of anime and video game series, but the two have a unique off-screen collaboration, as well. After a chance airplane encounter, the two decided to co-found and launch Unlocked, a mobile streaming platform that takes fans behind the scenes with a growing list of English voice actors and other creatives. We had a chance to chat with Bryce and David late last year about the inspiration behind Unlocked, and some of their upcoming plans for the service.

Since the interview, Unlocked has announced that they will be donating a portion of all proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of America and the Pacific Youth Foundation. Unlocked is currently available for iOS in the App store.

How did the idea for Unlocked come about?

David: The idea came from attending conventions and getting to meet fans. One of the greatest things about meeting fans is going to conventions, and being able to talk about the shows and games that we work on. And we realized there's just so many fans that don't get the chance to meet the actors, because there's just so many other things going on. And when you're communicating on social media, it's so easy for messages to get buried, and sometimes we don't respond in time, and we end up disappointing the fans, and it makes us feel bad. So we just figured, there has to be a better way.

The original idea sparked on a flight back from a convention. Bryce and I got together for dinner, and we were talking about it, and that's how the idea originally started— to create a new platform that would really facilitate the friendship and communication and engagement with fans, and with industry influencers and players.

Bryce: Dave had this idea and asked for my opinion on it. I thought about it, and I had the same issues Dave had been having, where I would go to these conventions, and I would be at the same convention as someone and still never meet them because things have just gotten so massive. Autograph lines get cut off, panels get shut down; there's just not enough time to have that exposure to everyone. And a lot of the time, people just aren't even at the same conventions.

We'd get messages after we got back from conventions like, "I didn't get the chance to meet you; I'd love to meet you." Dave had this idea and bounced it off me. If we do this mobile, we could do something incredible. Then fans could go with us to every convention, go behind the scenes, or wherever we wanted to take them, because our phones always travel with us. That's what set us off on the creation of this new platform.

How does Unlocked help solve that problem? With so many users, does each voice actor still have the opportunity and chance to really meet any of these users?

Bryce: Well, nothing is going to replace having that one-on-one interaction. But it definitely does build a relationship and a friendship by communicating on Unlocked. When the live streams are happening, we can communicate with fans around the world in real-time. It's amazing how smooth the technology is. I was streaming today, for example, and I was walking on one of the lots here in LA right after recording. I wanted to show fans around the world what it's like to be on that lot. There's this one area on this particular lot where it's all staged to look just like New York. Instantly, I threw out there, "Hey, is there anyone from New York on the stream right now?" And there were a few people from New York. And I said, "Does it look like I'm in New York?" And we were able to bounce that back and forth off each other in real time. It wasn't really possible until something like this came about.

David: Absolutely, and what else is really cool is fans can open the camera in the app and directly ask any actor on the app a question. Then see themselves on the app interacting with the actor as the actor responds to their question! So it really opens up the experience of having a friendship with these actors and other industry folks that they don't normally get the chance to correspond with on an intimate level.

So the idea is that you're letting fans into your life and letting them see parts of your life that normally they would otherwise not get the chance to see.

Bryce: Definitely, yeah. It's part of a life you wouldn't get to see, but also you can go behind the scenes. We can take them wherever we want to take them. Some people are taking fans into their personal lives, outside the realm of voice acting. And then other people are taking their fans into the booth with them when they record, into a green room, or behind the scenes. It's all different based on the person who's streaming. But it's definitely opening up something that I think fans haven't seen before.

Let me ask you some technical questions about the app. When someone is about to live stream, how do people know?

Bryce: Fans can follow their favorite actors, and as soon as a live stream starts, they get a push notification that that person's going live. And when they click on that, they'll immediately be taken to the live stream.

During the live stream, is that the only chance that fans have to send messages to the actors? Or can they send messages offline as well?

Bryce: Right now, the only way they can communicate with the actor is when they're live. The problem that we had with sending messages when they're not live is you get this backlog that you get with Facebook and Twitter. I get messages all the time on Twitter, and people say, "I tweeted at you, but you didn't respond." Things get buried, and it's so difficult to have that interaction with one particular person when 1,000 send you something at once. But on Unlocked, it highlights people and you can see them live. So it's much easier to have that interaction, and quicker to have that conversation than with something like Facebook or Twitter.

Are the only people who can stream verified voice actors and verified accounts? Or can anyone with an account stream?

Bryce: The only people who can stream are verified accounts, but there's a steady stream of content right now. Right now it's a lot of actors who are in anime and video games, but it will soon extend to include others as well.

I was checking out the app earlier today, and I noticed that two of the ways that the app is monetized is that, one, the app is a subscription service. And secondly, in order to be noticed or have a higher chance of rising to the top of the list of users, people can buy "stars" to bump them to the top of the list. How are fans reacting to that so far? What kind of feedback have you been receiving so far? It kind of feels like they're paying for access.

Bryce: It's been positive so far, and we have plenty of free content including the free live streams. It's also similar in the way that you would pay for access to a comic event or an anime con. This structure is what's going to allow the app to really grow and bring the best quality content to the users. So for example, when stars are sent, the fan gets featured. So if you really want a question answered, you can get to the top of a list, and the people who are streaming will notice that.

David: That model is based off the Twitch model.

Bryce: Yeah, which is pretty common in the gaming community. I just don't think it's been done with our community yet. So I think the model works really great. Also we're sharing it back. The majority of the actors on Unlocked, when they do receive stars or something that turns into a monetary payment, they can then choose to donate that to their charity of choice, which seems like a win-win-win for everyone involved. This technology to connect to fans is something new. It gives actors and celebrities this new way of reaching fans that they've never had before. And a new way to raise money for charity, actors can donate to the charity of their choice. It just seems like a positive for everyone involved.

David: Yeah charity is a big deal for us and for all of our colleagues. That was one of the main things that we initially thought about when we were building this. One of the main things that we always participate in are the charity events and charity auctions. That's a very large part of the "stars" and in-app giftings. Also the fans have the ability to earn free stars, for instance. They're not going to have to pay for them at all times. We're going to gameify the stars, so fans can earn free stars by watching videos and things like that. So we're excited to have the opportunity to use that as one of the ways to give back.

Bryce: As far as the other side, we're building a pretty vast library of awesome content that's exclusively for this market. Even without being a member and wanting to watch some of that exclusive content, fans can still enjoy the live streams for free. Anything that's live, they can see for free. When the actors are done streaming, everything is saved into their channel. And you can only go back and rewatch all the past streams if you're a member.

David: Yeah, all the live streams and direct Q&A's with actors are completely free. But also we're producing original content. Shows like "CONfessionals," "Love and Light," Lindbeck & Lee, things like that, those types of original content that Unlocked and the actors are producing, that's the kind of stuff you can see if you're a member of Unlocked.

How many actors do you currently have on board?

Bryce: So things are changing daily. What we've noticed is that it's really exploded in the community. People love the concept. They want to connect with their fans, and they've all had the same problem that Dave and I were facing. So it's growing daily. I wish I could tell you an updated count.

David: Today, for instance, we just on-boarded Tara Sands, Eric Stuart, and Austin Tindle, and the list just keeps growing. We're having the same experience that all of our colleagues are, and they're reaching out because we're solving a problem that is kind of across the board on our side. The response that we're getting from the fans is overwhelming, and it's better than we ever could have imagined it would've been. Fans are overwhelmingly reaching out to us and letting us know how much they're enjoying it, and enjoying corresponding, interacting, and engaging with the actors.

Bryce: We're still a small team so we're basically bringing the community on as fast we can. As far as the life of our app goes, we're babies. It is extremely new to the market and to see it grow this fast, faster than Dave and I ever imagined it to, is just incredible. It seems that not only the community of voice actors and talent are really loving what we're doing, but the community itself is loving it also.

As people who take part in streaming and having these live streams, do you try to uphold posting schedules? Like asking people to post once a week, or is that something you guys haven't really talked about yet?

Bryce: Yeah, we're asking all the featured users to stream at least one time weekly. There are some people who are going to be able to have a dedicated stream time, and that's going to be rolling out soon. And then there's the produced content, which will be on more of a TV schedule. We're still very new and fresh, so it's amazing that fans are supporting us even as we're ramping up and bringing this stuff out. It just shows that there's a demand for this.

David: One of the nice things about this is the actors' freedom to live stream at the drop of a hat. At a moment's notice, they can go on a live stream and reach their fans, and say, "I want to bring them in on this." The spontaneity is a big part of this, but at the same time, yes, we are going to have scheduled content along with scheduled streams as well. Additionally Actors are able to answer direct questions from fans at their convenience.

What would you say would be the benefit for actors to do something like Unlocked over Facebook Live or Snapchat?

Bryce: The great thing about Unlocked is we're pulling the whole community together. We have a number of voice actors already on there, we have a number of fans, so it's like we're all meeting in this one place. And it's difficult to get noticed in everything that is Facebook, or that is Twitter.

David: To put it simply, whenever you're on Facebook Live, you're only reaching people the people who are following you on Facebook. When you go on Unlocked, you're reaching the whole community that enjoys anime, and pop culture, and Comic Con culture. As opposed to just the people who are following you on Facebook. So you have a much broader reach to those who are into what we all do as a community.

It's really hard to launch a new tech product, especially a new platform. What pushed you to say, heck, let's just do it. It's not an easy space to break into.

Bryce: This was not a quick process. This is two years in the making. I think a lot of what Dave and I attribute to our success is the fans themselves, and traveling to these events, and meeting them, and seeing how what we've done is positive for them. It's an offshoot of acting that I never thought I'd experience, and it's inspiring. It made us want to do more. I think that Unlocked is going to open that opportunity up to everyone we've worked with and actors like us that do want that connection, and do want to communicate with the people who are watching their art, and watching what they put their sweat and tears into. And sharing those experiences.

David: Absolutely. And I'll just say that while technology is such a difficult nut to crack, one of the things that we did was work very, very hard to partner with one of the most prestigious tech incubators in North America, Science Inc., and that is their specialty. They're the guys that helped to bring us Dollar Shave Club, and other well-known companies. So by partnering with a technology company like Science Inc., Bryce and I and the minds at Science were able to marry the technology, with our knowledge of the community, and develop Unlocked together.

Do you have any plans to extend this beyond the anime community?

Bryce: Absolutely. Very quickly, it's going to extend into the cosplay community, the gaming community, and throughout comics, and we're really excited to see that expansion going.

What are your future plans for the app?

Bryce: We're working on new features daily. We have some really interesting things that we can't talk about yet, but I think people will be really excited to see them. We're focusing on making sure the user experience is as good as possible. We're bringing some really awesome content to the app, and we are in mid-development on an Android release. I would say one of the biggest requests we're getting is to come out with this app for Android, and it's just all a work in progress. On our website, Unlocked Official, we have a sign-up form to join our Android beta release, and you'll be notified first. I would welcome everyone that doesn't have an iOS device to go sign up for that Android beta release.

I guess it behooves people to sign up at the beginning of the app release because at this moment in time, there's probably a higher chance of interacting more with the actors right now, versus later, when there's a lot more users.

Bryce: Well, yeah. It's still fresh and new and I think more people are discovering it every day which is exciting. You definitely get to enjoy some of the things that we're trying out and testing if you come on early. It's exciting for everyone who's onboard now.

David: I also want to put out there that we're all ears when it comes to feedback from the fans, and users of the app. One of the greatest things is that they can go to the Unlocked Facebook page and send us direct messages on what they'd like to see on the app. We are all ears.

Do you have any last plugs?

Bryce: I just want to welcome the entire anime community to come join us on Unlocked. They can see some of their favorite voice actors and awesome new content, with new ones being added every single day. Come and hang out, interact, and enjoy! For people who want to see what they're missing, there's a free week trial that we offer to everyone. So they can check it out and see if it's right for them.

David: We made this for them, we made this for our community because we love this community, and we wanted to create a platform for everyone together to enjoy what we all love. We hope that you guys enjoy it. Please join us, and again, we're all ears. We're open to suggestions, changes. We just want to bring people together.

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