×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Los Angeles’ New Tech Scene Flourishes Downtown

Last fall, Portal A decided it needed to move. The digital content studio, best known for creating the annual YouTube Rewind video, had been in its first floor offices in the Los Angeles Times Building for a little more than a year, but it was already at capacity. On any given day, the 20 full-time employees who worked in the San Francisco-based company’s L.A. outpost could be joined by a dozen or more writers, directors, digital influencers, and other production freelancers, and those numbers were only going to be growing.

Fortunately, the company found a second floor space just three blocks away, at the 600 Wilshire building with double the square footage (4,000 vs. 2,000), tech company-friendly offices (high ceilings, polished concrete floors, etc.), and amenities including a gym and a game lounge.

Digital-media hubs have sprouted up all over Los Angeles in recent years in areas such as Venice, Playa Vista, and Culver City. But now the city’s downtown is also becoming a hot spot for a growing number of tech-minded firms.

“It feels like you’re in a real city, not in a Hollywood or Silicon Beach bubble,” says Portal A co-founder and managing partner Zach Blume. “You look out of the windows and it’s like you’re watching a scene from ‘Chinatown’ or some other movie like that. There’s such a hubbub of activity. It just feels vibrant and thriving, which is not something you could say about L.A. downtown 10 years ago.”

All Def Digital CEO Sanjay Sharma (right) leads a meeting in the conference room; the corner-office studio of All Def Digital artist-in-residence, Blue the Great.
Damon Casares for Variety

For decades, downtown Los Angeles was in a state of decline. While major corporations did business in its skyscrapers during the day, when the sun went down, it became a veritable ghost town. That began to change with the opening of the Staples Center, in 1999, and L.A. Live, in 2009, along with the expansion of the L.A. Metro Rail system, which has made it easier for people in outlying areas to access the businesses that have surfaced since.

“With the new tenants moving into the market, you’re seeing rental rates as high as almost $5 a square foot,” says Andrew Tashjian, managing director of real-estate-services firm Cushman & Wakefield, who brokers the leases for 600 Wilshire and other downtown properties. “But in West L.A., you’ll see rates still much higher — almost $7 a foot in areas like Santa Monica and beach-adjacent cities.”

In June 2016, when All Def Digital relocated from Culver City to its current home a block away from the Staples Center, better economics were a big part of the draw. But the move also had deeper significance.

Collab employees enjoy a multiplayer-videogame break in a living-room space adjacent to their work area.
Damon Casares for Variety

“It’s core to the company’s mission to be representative of urban hip-hop culture, and it feels a little funny to say that’s your brand and your mission and you’re in Santa Monica,” says Sanjay Sharma, All Def Digital CEO.

In addition to administrative offices, All Def’s two-floor suite boasts 20 editing stations and several soundstages, including one with an infinity green screen. It shoots twice-daily Facebook Live broadcasts in the common areas, from standup shows in the middle of the office to comedy roasts in the break room. The walls are adorned with murals by artist-in-residence Blue the Great, along with rows of platinum records earned by the company’s co-founder, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

“The idea is to create an incubator and a creative engine that cross-pollinates across video, music, comedy, and visual arts,” says Sharma.

Elsewhere, at the 600 Wilshire building, to help facilitate teamwork at Evite’s new offices on the fourth floor, the digital invitation company used a tech-firm-trendy open floor plan, with no private offices — not even for CEO Victor Cho.

“It absolutely enhances collaboration,” says Cho. “You’re much more likely to see somebody and think, ‘Oh, I should go chat with them.’”

Cho also enhanced employee involvement in the new space by establishing a culture committee, which voted to name its conference room, editing bays, and other creative spaces after various local venues (the Wiltern, the Greek, the Palladium, etc.).

At the offices of the digital talent network and entertainment studio Collab, in the SoLA neighborhood, one of the perks for employees and visitors is a VR room outfitted with HTC Vive and Oculus Rift systems.

“We’re experimenting with 360 video, so it’s important for us to have the latest in VR technology and also provide a fun experience for our guests and clients and creators when they come visit the office,” says Tyler McFadden, who founded Collab with his brother and co-CEO James McFadden. “We do photo shoots for them here, acting and improv classes, and we also throw parties here every once in awhile.”

When Collab first moved into the building in 2006, it had a single office with 2,500 square feet. Today, it occupies approximately 20,000 square feet on two floors. The surrounding area has retained a grittier edge than other downtown neighborhoods, but that’s likely to change with the completion of the $1 billion multi-use SoLA Village development down the street.

In the meantime, more digital companies are moving downtown, from the website HelloGiggles, which recently set up shop in the penthouse of 600 Wilshire, to Latino digital media network Mitu, which is scheduled relocate to the area in mid-2017.

“The market is going nowhere but up,” says Tashjian.

Collab publicist Tiffany Au tries out the HTC Vive in the company’s VR room; a set for an All Def Digital production.
Damon Casares for Variety
Collab’s claims team doing rights-management work for its network of creators.
Damon Casares for Variety
Portal A holds a round-robin table tennis tournament in its office every Friday.
Damon Casares for Variety

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Randall Stephenson

    AT&T CEO Defends WarnerMedia Strategy, Addresses Activist Investor's Letter

    AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said the telco isn’t looking at any major M&A on the near horizon, and he defended the $85 billion deal for Time Warner as the right strategy for the company in response to criticism from an activist investor. Consumers are watching more content and more of that viewing is [...]

  • Whistle Sports

    Whistle and OTRO Announce Multi-Year Commercial Partnership

    The entertainment and sports media company Whistle and the digital content studio OTRO have announced a multi-year commercial partnership. Together, the two companies will collaborate on programming strategy, co-creating premium original content and developing experiential activations. They will also work together on the development and monetization of content and IP formats globally. “With Whistle’s deep understanding [...]

  • Amazon Music

    Amazon Music Unveils HD: the ‘Highest Quality Audio’ for Streaming

    Amazon Music today became the first of the three major streaming services to offer high-definition sound with the launch of Amazon Music HD. According to the announcement, the service offers a new tier of high quality, lossless audio with more than 50 million songs in High Definition, and millions of songs in Ultra High Definition, which it claims [...]

  • Sony Corp USA Building Placeholder Logo

    Sony Rejects Breakup Proposal From Dan Loeb

    Sony has rejected the corporate breakup proposal that it received three months ago from activist investor Dan Loeb and his Third Point Capital. Loeb, who in June built up a $1.5 billion stake in the company, had called on Sony to divest its image-sensors business in order to focus more on entertainment, release value and [...]

  • CBS Studios Exterior

    CBS Credit Union Manager Sentenced to 14 Years for $40 Million Fraud

    Edward Rostohar, the longtime manager of the CBS Employees Federal Credit Union, was sentenced on Monday to 14 years in prison for embezzling $40 million. The massive fraud left the credit union insolvent. It was shuttered and taken over by the University Credit Union, which assumed the accounts of 2,800 members. Rostohar pleaded guilty in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content