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NewFronts: AOL to Open Studio for Live VR Programming in Downtown NYC

Internet company's 13,412-square-foot studio space set to bow in fall of 2016

AOL Build - Main Stage
Courtesy of AOL

AOL is doubling down on live video events — and virtual reality tech — with the planned opening of a new 13,412-square-foot studio space in downtown Manhattan.

The ground-floor studio, to be located at 692 Broadway, will house the company’s live interview and event series, AOL Build, and feature a street-facing main stage and seating for a live audience. Slated to open in the fall of 2016, it will be equipped with cameras to shoot in 360-degree video to deliver live VR experiences.

Currently, AOL Build produces at least four hours of live programming each day with about 75 live events per month, from the company’s headquarters at 770 Broadway. To date AOL Build has produced over 800 episodes with over 2,000 guests from entertainment, tech, sports, fashion and business.

“The studio reflects our commitment to creating immersive live experiences and creating a studio that will serve as a cultural destination, digitally, as well as within New York City,” Jimmy Maymann, exec VP and president of AOL Content and Consumer Brands, said in announcing the plans. “With its state-of-the-art technology and the creative team behind it, we’re connecting the physical and digital worlds for our consumer, much like the way we live our lives.”

The development of the new studio comes after Verizon’s $4.4 billion takeover of AOL last year, and reflects the telco’s stepped-up investment in video content. That has included its minority stake in AwesomenessTV and formation of a joint venture with Hearst to create digital channels with millennial-skewing programming; last month the JV bought male-focused hipster media outfit Complex Media. Maymann, previously CEO of Huffington Post, moved into his current role overseeing AOL’s content businesses last summer after the Verizon acquisition.

Also of note, AOL last month acquired RYOT, a small studio specializing in virtual reality and 360-degree video, planning to combine it into HuffPost’s operations.

In the third quarter, Verizon Go90 will move to the AOL “tech stack,” which will let Go90 channels be distributed to non-mobile platforms, “inclusive of AOL,” said Brian Angiolet, Verizon’s senior VP of consumer products.

At the NewFronts event, AOL showcased about 20 new and upcoming original series. Those include “Coach Snoop,” about Snoop Dogg and his inner-city kids’ football program (premiering May 19), “The Runner” on Go90 this summer, the “Makers Men” series built of the women-focused Makers franchise, HuffPost’s “Celebs Have Issues,” TechCrunch’s “Bitcoin: Digital Gold?” and Engadget’s “World’s Most Dangerous Unboxings.” Exec said AOL video content has about 500 million views per month on owned-and-operated properties, with a reach at least twice that on other services like Facebook.

To date, AOL Build guests have included Julianne Moore, Elton John, Kristin Chenoweth, Olympic athlete Lindsey Vonn, Mario Batali, Nicholas Sparks, Carmelo Anthony and Rebecca Minkoff.

At AOL’s Digital Content NewFronts event Tuesday at South Street Seaport in New York City, “The Lobster” director Yorgos Lanthimos and stars Colin Farrell and Ariane Labed discussed the film on a set meant to resemble the new street-level AOL Build stage, in a live-streamed interview. The comedy, winner of the Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, is set for a May 13 release.

AOL Build live events are executive produced by Suzanne Lindbergh and produced by AOL’s in-house production team. The live streams are available on the web as well as via an app on Apple TV, with select events on Sony PlayStation and Facebook Live.

Vornado Realty Trust owns the 35,000-square-foot loft building at 692 Broadway, at Broadway and East 4th Street, which also houses Blink Fitness and SoulCycle gyms. The space the AOL Build studio will occupy is the former location of a Tower Records outlet, and more recently the MLB Fan Cave live social-media space (which the league shut down last year).

AOL invited 6,000 people to its NewFronts outdoor party at South Street Seaport, but with the chilly, rainy weather execs were expecting half that. Update: AOL said about 3,500 people turned out Tuesday night.] The event featured performances by Demi Lovato, Snoop Dogg and British band Years & Years (all streamed live on AOL Build).