Why a YouTube-branded theater is opening in Inglewood
Remi Cruz is a social media star with more than 5 million followers, a podcast and YouTube channels where she dishes out cooking tips and lifestyle advice.
Soon, the 26-year-old internet influencer will get exposure at an unlikely venue — a performing arts theater in Inglewood.
YouTube Theater, a 6,000-seat arena next to SoFi Stadium in Hollywood Park, opens this month, marking the internet video giant’s further expansion into live events. A signature flourish sits just outside the theater: an innovative 13-foot-tall digital screen where passersby can see content featuring Cruz and other YouTube influencers.
The partnership with Hollywood Park gives YouTube opportunities to generate high-profile content — including livestreamed concerts and e-sports competitions — for its massive platform, and also test the IRL (in real life) appeal of its online artists.
“That intimacy that YouTube has always created between the actual creator and the fan, no matter where they are in the world, is something we’d like to continue even in the IRL space,” Angela Courtin, YouTube’s vice president of brand marketing, said in an interview.
Cruz, in a statement, said having her content displayed on a big screen in the Hollywood Park complex was “a pinch-me moment.”
The moment comes as YouTube, a pioneer in building social media stars, faces increased competition for talent from its rivals Facebook and TikTok. Such companies recognize that social media influencers can help draw attention to their platforms, increase the amount of time consumers spend on their sites, and attract advertisers desperate to reach younger audiences.
These behemoths are stepping up recruitment efforts by offering budding talent financial support and expertise in building fan bases. YouTube already has an original programming division to work with creators to produce shows and films.
YouTube sees the theater as another perk for its video creators.
“Imagine now being able to bring that to an audience of 3,000 or 6,000,” Courtin said. “It’s a continuation of that ability for creators to make a living because of YouTube.”
The venue could serve as a launchpad for influencers hoping to translate their huge virtual audiences into live in-person ones.
“By having their own dedicated space, they can take those risks that you couldn’t take at a Staples Center,” said Kyle Hjelmeseth, president of G&B Digital Management, which works with digital content creators.
“It’s going to be incredible for the creator economy,” he said. “This is a massive step ... toward bringing creators to the public in a more real way.”
YouTube is raising its profile in Los Angeles’ cultural scene with the naming rights deal. The three-story arena is expected to become a featured attraction in the nearly 300-acre Hollywood Park development that is home to the $5-billion SoFi Stadium, where the NFL Rams and Chargers play; the American Airlines Plaza; and an office complex. Developers plan to eventually add retail shops and residential units.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke backs the project on the site of the former racetrack.
YouTube’s involvement is part of a deal struck last fall that awarded the platform’s parent company, Google, the cloud-storage contract for SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park. As part of that arrangement, YouTube became the official video streaming sponsor of the Rams, Chargers, SoFi Stadium and other campus venues.
The San Bruno-based YouTube also will become the theater’s exclusive video services and music streaming partner.
“It was really important for us to find a partner that was focused on technology, entertainment and then creativity,” said Jason Gannon, managing director of SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park.
YouTube and Hollywood Park declined to discuss the financial terms of the agreement. But people associated with the project said they recognized the value of YouTube’s global reach and its cachet with young creators.
“To be able to bring all of those things to Hollywood Park through YouTube Theater was an incredible opportunity for us,” Gannon said.
The 13-foot digital sign outside the theater is expected to become an attraction in itself.
Plans include featuring future concert dates of the talent performing at the theater and videos from YouTube creators. The interactive screen is designed to be a fun diversion for pedestrians who will be able to see their movement and image reflected as in a fun-house mirror.
The 227,000-square-foot theater can accommodate 3,400 to 6,000 seats, according to its website. It was designed to feel more intimate than many arenas; the farthest seat is just 164 feet from the stage, Gannon said.
The idea behind the theater was to rethink how live events are programmed.
The theater has capabilities to livestream events directly to YouTube, which could enable artists to have their concerts streamed to millions of fans. Producers also could create promotional elements around an event. This opens the possibilities of a straight live concert feed or allowing YouTube to livestream the red carpet but make the concert experience something that is unique to the fans in the theater, Courtin said.
“It’s the extension of bringing that digital experience and that relationship to the real world, and the ability to take that real-world experience and push it back out to the [digital] world,” Courtin said.
The theater is expected to become a popular music venue. Hollywood Park has a multiyear booking agreement with Beverly Hills-based concert promoter and operator Live Nation.
Some concerts have already sold out, including a Sept. 11 performance with family band Los Ángeles Azules.
YouTube creator events are being scheduled, Courtin said, and could include a live cooking show, a launch of a documentary or a magic show.
“The hope is that it’s an invitation to expand the foot traffic to the venue itself to bring in Gen Z and the fans of our creators and experience all of Hollywood Park including the theater,” Courtin said.
YouTube and its parent, Google, have been expanding their footprint in L.A. over the years.
Google renovated the former Spruce Goose hangar in Playa Vista into offices. The more than 450,000-square-foot complex, which opened in 2018, also has soundstages that have been used for YouTube productions.
One of YouTube’s first prominent sites in Southern California opened in 2012. The YouTube Space in Playa Vista was a production facility where video creators could gather to learn new skills.
YouTube closed Space in L.A. during the pandemic and announced earlier this year it had no plans to reopen it, instead opting for virtual or pop-up events. The Inglewood theater with its livestreaming capabilities is the platform’s emerging strategy.
“Today, our YouTube partner community continues to expand at an exponential pace, and we need to better meet the needs of our creators and artists, no matter where they might be,” Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s chief business officer, wrote in a blog post in February. “We’re doubling down on the more scalable and nimble strategy to reach more creators and artists with the tools and workshops we offer.”
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