AOL is inviting celebrities and you to its new BUILD Series studio
When a celebrity arrives in New York City with a new project to push, their schedule might look something like: Good Morning America, Facebook Live, the Tonight Show.
AOL is hoping to add another destination to that itinerary: BUILD, its brand new 13,412-square-foot, three-story livestreaming studio set to open in downtown Manhattan on Thursday. It’s a big, shiny and clearly expensive (state-of-the-art everything) bet on being able to attract celebrities and an online audience with live video.
Of course, this isn’t your parents’ celebrity interview series. AOL wants to bring people downtown to relax. Maybe even have some fun.
“We want to have the most intimate fan experience that melds together digital and fans,” Suzanne Lindbergh, senior vice president of original programming at AOL, told Mashable. “We want everybody to feel like they’re at home. The talent experience here is completely different. You feel love and welcomed, and it’s equally fun.”
AOL is inviting storytellers and their fans to meet-up close. About 35 people can fit around the stage that can host any group from an 11-piece band to a single guest. An interviewer will start the conversation and then attendees are encouraged to ask their own questions.
For those who cannot make it to the studio, they’re taking questions from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat and a new BUILD Series app. People also can tune in live on AOL.com, Apple TV, Facebook, Sony Playstation, Google Play and FiOS.
BUILD embodies exactly what AOL wants to be: A company that merges the best content with the best technical backend and distribution power. It’s no surprise that the content is filmed live but made available across several live media platforms Facebook, Apple, Google and then distributed as video on demand.
“BUILD is where we really lean into live-streaming broadcast. You never know where the consumer’s going to find you,” Lindbergh said. “There are some people who love Facebook Live and others who love Twitter. YouTube certainly has its fanatics.”
BUILD does not currently have a deal to stream on Twitter Live but didn’t discount it in the future. “Celebrities love Twitter,” she said.
AOL started the BUILD Series back in 2014. Until this week, it was tucked in a corner of the fourth floor of 770 Broadway. There, employees of AOL, The Huffington Post and the companies under the umbrella could attend alongside anyone else in the community who could request tickets.
This is not AOL’s first big, expensive bet on live video. The Huffington Post, owned by AOL, previously ran an all-day live news network, but that operation has since been shut down and converted solely to a semi-regular Facebook Live show. Instead, with BUILD, AOL is cashing in on celebrity.
“We work with our partners, Lindbergh said. “When we do entertainment segments, we’ll ask HuffPost entertainment reporters to moderate, and we’ll ask them to carry the stream. We work with TechCrunch and Makers too.”
Verizon sponsored the series a year before the telecommunication giant decided to buy AOL for $4.4 billion. Clearly, Verizon still believes in BUILD. The space and equipment is expansive, going from a makeshift set inside AOL’s offices to a three-story, expansive set.
BUILD is not the company’s only original programming series, but it represents the storytelling theme of AOL. Instead of limiting its scope to millennials or targeting stay-at-home moms, Lindbergh said they’re looking to reach everyone.
Lindbergh would know a good story. Before joining AOL in 2014 to lead marketing, she worked on the buzz marketing team at Apple for 15 years.
“We always book people and have people at BUILD that we think have a really compelling story to share,” Lindbergh said. “It could be a 15-year-old social media influencer and hours later we could have Robert Redford. People gravitate to great stories.”
Unlike the traditional morning show, BUILD doesn’t have a set start time or time when the cameras turn off. There’s no need to have a certain number guests every day.
The building has a history. It was the original home of Tower Records, which one reason why Lindbergh designed the place with photos of records and other touches. Most recently, it was the home of the Major League Baseball Fan Cave.
Starting Thursday, a different type of fan is entering the studio.
“We want to establish this as an amazing venue for New York City and for New Yorkers,” Lindbergh said. “It’s a nice space to meet. That’s what this place is intended to do.”
The city certainly approves. Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed Jan. 12 as “AOL BUILD Studio Day” in honor of the grand opening.
The general theme of the studio is quintessential New York. The walls are a subdued grey, and there’s a section of the original subway tiles. The green rooms for upcoming guests feature high-ceilings and have vibrant furniture.
For those who don’t want to crowd the stage, an upstairs area seats about 20 in what Lindbergh called “VIP Viewing.” That’s also where about 15 BUILD employees, including talent relations and post-production members, work out of each day.
One of the parts celebrities enjoy the most about coming to BUILD, Lindbergh said, is having their own headshot. Several of these are framed and hung throughout the studio.
For Lindbergh, her favorite part of BUILD happens outside the studio.
“We’re so excited to be a part of the community at the street level. We see even more people’s reactions and interaction,” Lindbergh said. “There’s nothing that gratifies me more than watching someone walks out of BUILD, just able to see a life dream fulfilled.”