MasterClass is known for selling access to pre-recorded online classes by a long list of people who are among the best at what they do, from tennis great Serena Williams to writer David Sedaris to chef Thomas Keller.
More recently, however, the company added live Q&A sessions with these same stars as a member benefit, and now, for the foreseeable future, it’s opening these sessions to non-members, too. It’s the San Francisco startup’s way of making itself more accessible to a broader audience that perhaps can’t rationalize paying $90 per class or $180 for a yearly all-access pass, especially in this increasingly grim market.
The first free session streams live on Wednesday at noon PT from MasterClass’s site and will feature Chris Voss, who was once the lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI. Voss had earlier created a module for MasterClass on the art of negotiation, and he’ll be talking to whomever wants to tune in with the help of a moderator who will be asking questions that have been submitted in advance by students.
It’s just “one of a bunch” of such live Q&A sessions that will be made available, according to MasterClass CEO David Rogier, who we chatted with Friday afternoon and who half-kiddingly describes Voss’s mission as partly to help families that are stuck at home to better negotiate who is going to use the big-screen TV at any one time (though more broadly the idea is to teach empathy).
It’s a small step from MasterClass, which separately gives away 130,000 all-access passes each year to organizations in need and has committed to giving away an addition 200,000 of these passes this year. (It’s opening up applications to these passes soon to organizations that can apply on its website, says a spokeswoman.)
Seemingly, MasterClass could lean in even further while much of America, and the rest of the globe, is trapped at home and looking for both entertainment and high-quality educational content.
In the meantime, Rogier is quick to note that MasterClass has a variety of kid-friendly content that’s instructive — if best consumed with parental supervision.
Among the now 80 classes available through the site — including new classes by interior designer Kelly Wearstler, a class on self expression and identity by RuPaul, and Gabriela Cámara teaching Mexican cooking — are classes, for example, by Neil deGrasse Tyson, who walks viewers through his take on scientific thinking and communication. Another segment stars Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose class centers on U.S. presidential history.
Other courses recommended by Rogier himself include Penn and Teller’s class on the art of magic; a class on space exploration by retired astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield; and, for older kids who might be trying to make sense of the world right now, a class by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on the economy.
As for how five-year-old MasterClass was doing before the world changed, Rogier declines to share specific growth stats, merely describing its numbers as “great.” He also notes that MasterClass is now available not only via its website and app but on the big screen through Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.
It’s also rolling out Android TV and Roku soon.
Pictured above: Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss.