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AOL Builds a Live TV Studio in the Heart of Greenwich Village

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“It was Jimmy Smits, I think, who rounded the corner at the top of the stairs, and he stopped,” Lindbergh remembers. “I saw the look on his face, and I said to him, ‘Yes, this was Tower Records.’ He was like, ‘I knew it!’ It all came flooding back to him. There’s a beauty of that nostalgia. What I think is rooted at this corner is it’s always been, or for a very long time, has been a corner for creativity.”

The Village Tower Records was a cathedral to music for downtown denizens, so it’s nice that the location is still being used for something creative. AOL has even kept a little of the Tower spirit inside. One stairway is decorated with vintage music posters left behind by the previous occupant, and one bathroom features a Tower-branded NSYNC poster.

“Lots of bands performed here,” Lindbergh says. “We have some great photos that we actually bought recently. We haven’t hung them up yet. We’ve got a great photo of the New York Dolls, a great photo of Common, and a great photo of Madonna. We’re going to hang them backstage, and just give it a little tip of the hat to the history of the space.”

After 8 months of renovation, the Build studio opened in January. A representative from mayor Bill de Blasio’s office read a proclamation declaring January 12 as AOL Build Studio Day; musician and actor Kat Graham performed; and later the mayor dashed in through the back entrance, shook hands with AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, and dashed out again. He had other events he needed to be at, but he wanted to stop by.

The Build studio is in the same building that once housed the Greenwich Village Tower Records, and it’s kept some of the decor, including this NSYNC poster in one of the bathrooms. 

“The sneak-in/sneak-out was funny. He came in the back entrance very Goodfellas-style,” Lindbergh remembers. “He did the quick dip, very lovely, very easy, but clearly a professional. And then he’s gone because he has to get to the next thing. He had to go speak that night.”

Mention AOL and live video to someone, and they’re likely to think of HuffPost Live, the 24/7 streaming channel from Ariana Huffington’s division. But HuffPost Live went offline back in March 2016, while Build is going strong. It produces more live content than any other AOL property. It also serves as a content engine, chopping and channeling its live moments to other properties within the company, producing more than 125 pieces of on-demand video every week.

“We work with the other social entities at AOL,” Lindbergh says. “We’ll have our livestream on AOL’s Facebook page, on Moviefone’s Facebook page, on Makers' Facebook page. We really are this live entity that is celebrating some of the biggest names in the business, and that is getting a real A-list contingent to come in. I feel that we’re keeping AOL live every single day nearly 350 days of the year, so we rarely go dark. We can be right there at the forefront of celebrating arts and culture, some news and politics, books, and more in a live forum.”

To show how aggressive AOL is in mining for content, Lindbergh gives this example: On March 20, a few weeks before this interview, Demi Lovato was a Build guest promoting the new Smurfs movie. AOL pushed that video to its properties and social networks; it posted one especially good clip to its Facebook page. Sony liked it and shared it with its 25 million followers and with another 13 million followers on a Smurfs page. So that’s 48 million people exposed to one clip with little extra work on AOL’s part. In her interview, Lovato talked about women’s empowerment, so AOL shared that with its Makers site, then the main AOL site and Moviefone shared the clip. AOL will revisit the material over the movie’s entire lifecycle: When the movie comes out, AOL will surface its clips again, just as it will do if the film is nominated for any awards or when it goes into home video channels. The Build team not only creates new content daily; it goes back to its archives and constantly resurfaces relevant older material.

“When [stars] go do press at other entities, they have their moment, they’re done, and they move on,” Lindbergh says. “Here, they have their moment, we can clip out a bunch of stuff, we can run their full interview, and then we’re able to time it to different amazing moments either within their career or within the life of that film or TV show or that book or whatever it is that they’re talking about to keep coming back to it.”

During a Build live shoot, the studio is a buzz of activity, but there are only eight staffers working on the show. They focus on talent booking, social media, and production. There are far more than that on set, however, including interns and staffers who split their time, such as photographers and camera operators.

It’s those people on set, as well as the people on the street, who create the unique energy of Build studio. Anyone visiting New York should check the guest schedule and make a reservation.

“You bring this unique consumer experience, you bring this unique talent experience, you bring these two things together, everybody has a great time,” Lindbergh says. “I think that that energy has been so clear to both people sitting out there, as well as people in the green room, and they can’t really do that in other places.”

[This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "AOL Builds a Live TV Studio in Greenwich Village."]

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