Live Streaming: YouTube’s First Theater Brings a Virtual World to a Live Audience

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The opening of YouTube Theater at Inglewood’s new Hollywood Park in August held significance well beyond its 227,000 square feet. Because the first foray into IRL (“in real life” for the unsavvy) entertainment for the ubiquitous online video sharing platform could also set historic precedents as a timely cross-pollination of entertainment’s physical and virtual environments.

“YouTube Theater is in the heart of the entertainment capital of the world and inspired by creativity and technology,” Stan Kroenke, owner/chairperson of the Los Angeles Rams and Hollywood Park’s developer, said during an event marking the venue’s opening. “We are proud to partner with YouTube at this unique venue. YouTube Theater’s opening series of special and diverse concerts and events is not only for the Inglewood and Los Angeles communities it calls home but also representative of them.”

Launched in 2005, San Bruno, California-based YouTube streams over one billion hours of video to viewers daily. YouTube Theater is the company’s first such naming-rights deal and as such is likely being closely observed by other new media platforms.

The first event at YouTube Theater was the Hollywood Black Comedy Festival in September, followed by Mexico City rockers Caifanes and the cumbia sonidera band Los Angeles Azules. Truly bringing a world of live entertainment to Inglewood, it has since booked the likes of Welsh singer-songwriter Marina, Spain’s Enrique Bunbury, Miami rapper Pitbull, and England’s Erasure.

A Creative Oasis
Make no mistake, YouTube Theater is plenty astounding in itself. The three-level facility, located beneath the same sloping roof canopy as the SoFi Stadium and aside serene American Airlines Plaza, offers perfect sightlines from every one of its 6,000 seats. Its massive, 6,100-square-foot stage includes a rigging capacity of 200,000 pounds, meaning that it can accommodate a variety of large-scale touring productions. Substantial screens on either side of the stage further ensure optimal viewing pleasure for all attendees.

The comprehensive venue also boasts a 3,500-square-foot private club with 140 premium seats, plus six 12-person luxury boxes. There’s a 1,200-square-foot back-of-house hospitality space, and a full-service catering kitchen that can serve up to 2,000 people. In short, there’s no better place to witness or stage world-class concerts, stand-up comedy, award shows, esports tournaments, and more.

YouTube Theater’s exterior is an architectural wonder of swooping steel and gleaming glass, while a two-story mesh chandelier constructed by New Zealand-based Kaynemaile and a colorful textured wall by visual artist Sandeep Mukherjee are just two of its interior art installations.

An indoor-outdoor balcony overlooks American Airlines Plaza and the placid waters of adjacent Lake Park, served by sleek full-service bars (seven in total, throughout the venue) and speckled with standing cocktail tables. Inside, a large interactive digital wall showcases YouTube creators’ work in a gallery-like setting. Exclusive curated content can also be uploaded to this wall to simultaneously complement whatever is happening inside the theater.

And while YouTube Theater retains the grandiose sense of occasion common to the world’s best venues, there is so much more to the facility, much of it unseen. For one, the premium sound system was created by L-Acoustics, the French company behind the incredible sonic experience at major festivals like Bottle Rock Napa Valley. Appropriately, the venue also has the very latest livestreaming capabilities built into its infrastructure, so that all events can be livestreamed on (where else?) YouTube. So, it could be used for YouTube creator events not normally associated with such a large space, such as live cooking shows, magic shows, or documentary launches.

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Best of Both Worlds
It is this straddling of the physical and digital worlds that makes YouTube Theater so significant as a likely trendsetter in an entertainment landscape in which even the most intimate of in-person events can be simultaneously broadcast to millions across the planet. And the venue really is surprisingly intimate, despite its impressive capacity, as the farthest seat is just 164 feet from the stage (and seating is scalable, using house reduction curtains, from 3,400 to 6,000 seats).

“YouTube Theater will drive the uniqueness of YouTube by combining physical, ‘in real life’ events that bring creators and fans together, while simultaneously sharing that same event experience with our two billion global monthly users through livestreams and video on demand (VOD) content,” stated Angela Courtin, YouTube’s Vice-President of Brand Marketing prior to the venue’s opening. Its state-of-the-art theater presents an interesting and likely prescient opportunity for YouTube to generate high-quality, high-profile content for its platform, while giving artists who’ve earned huge online audiences a chance to test their in-person appeal. The option to perform at its theater can form part of the support package that YouTube offers to the influential social media creators that help drive its platform.

Appropriately, a 13-foot interactive digital video screen outside the YouTube Theater, which can reflect the image and movement of passers-by, mirrors the physical realm in the digital. Also showing highlights of YouTube’s creator and artist content, it has already become a fun Hollywood Park attraction in and of itself.

YouTube is also the exclusive video services and music streaming services partner of SoFi Stadium, Hollywood Park, and the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers (both of which are based at SoFi). Hollywood Park has additionally partnered with YouTube’s parent company, Google, to make Google Cloud the exclusive cloud partner of the Rams, Chargers and SoFi Stadium. YouTube Theater is hosting a number of major performances as part of a multi-year booking deal between Hollywood Park and global live entertainment giants Live Nation, the company behind many of the world’s top music festivals and concert tours.

Like so many of Inglewood’s burgeoning sports and entertainment destinations, which include its newly refurbished Forum and imminent Intuit Dome arenas, YouTube theater both epitomizes and boldly propels innovative industry trends. With one foot in the storied history of live performance and the other striding into the rapidly evolving hybrid virtual and IRL entertainment environment, it is another shining centerpiece in a city that has embraced the future like few others while lovingly preserving the very best of its past.