AOL’s New 360° and Live Video Studio Is a ‘Physical Embodiment of Native Advertising’

Manhattan facility makes space for a bevy of brand partnerships

Headshot of Marty Swant

Imagine designing one building that could accomplish this two-part mission: First, make one of the oldest digital brands cool once again. Second, secure the future of branded content.

Has such a building been created? Time will tell, but that's certainly the hope of Build Studio, AOL's flashy new mini-concert destination and content creation hub.

This week, the Verizon-owned media company officially opened Build, a 13,412-square-foot studio in lower Manhattan that will become the stage for all sorts of interviews, performances and events shot both live and with 360-degree video.

Build, which was announced last year during AOL's presentation at the Digital Content NewFronts, aims to attract a younger audience to AOL properties, both with the types of guests that will be featured and by having a street-facing studio to attract anyone passing by.

The idea is to take the content filmed at Build and then repurpose some of it for other channels like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. According to AOL vp of monetization Jesse Chambers, the space "opens up a lot of avenues" to create consumer experiences in partnership with brands.

"We view this space, this studio, as a physical embodiment of native advertising," Chambers told Adweek. "That allows us to do quite a bit both digitally and physically in the space, which is what we're really excited about."

From a digital standpoint, Chambers said AOL is moving away from traditional pre-roll or mid-roll spots and instead using something it calls "Player Up." He said the format, which launched last week at CES, is a "consumer-friendly alternative to pre-roll" that plays a short 3- to 7-second branded bumper ad. After the ad plays, it moves to the bottom corner of the screen where a brand's logo will swap back and forth with the AOL Build logo while the concert or interview content plays. Then, when a user pauses the content, the brand's image will once again appear front and center until the user resumes playing the content.

While Chambers said the company has been in talks with brands who might want to partner for future performances, he said sponsorships likely won't just be a traditional type of content partnership. For example, alcohol brands and other beverage companies might sponsor the drinks at the downstairs bar, or a makeup brand might sponsor what's being used in the green room. (There are also video screens both inside and outside the studio, which Chambers said can be used to display brands' messaging.)

In addition to AOL, other publishing brands within Verizon's portfolio might soon start using the studio. Chambers said AOL livestreamed 12,000 events from its previous Build space within AOL's headquarters at 770 Broadway. Partner brands sponsoring content could also potentially use the studio moving in the future.

"We wanted to build the space, wanted to get used to the new environment, and have these partner brands have the experience of the space as well so they can create these customized, authentic experiences here with us. We talk at AOL about building brands that people love, and that extends not only to our own owned and operated brands, but also to our partner brands, too."

A green room inside AOL's Build studio in lower Manhattan, which opened this week. Build Studio

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.