Billboard Live was ahead of its time, spending millions of dollars to try to accomplish what most smartphones can do today, which was videoconference from the club. The bar was also kind of creepy, with spycams everywhere. It also had the first JumboTron outside of a sports arena, which loomed over the traffic on the Sunset Strip. The high tech bar didn’t last long; 18 months later it was renamed the Key Club, and most of its cyber-gadgetry was decommissioned.
Billboard Live 10/9/1997
by H.B. Koplowitz
Recently, a producer friend and I got a private tour of Billboard Live, a hot new nightclub on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Partly owned by Billboard magazine, and at the former location of Gazarri’s, one of the Strip’s premier clubs, Billboard Live aspires to be a watering hole for music moguls and a launch pad for upcoming bands. It’s got all the right amenities — bar, restaurant, entertainment, dance floor, and a members only club in the basement. It’s also got enough high tech gadgetry to give new meaning to “cyber bar.”
Of the nearly $9 million it cost to open Billboard Live, only about $3.5 million went for conventional furnishings, fixtures and equipment. Much of the rest was lavished on lighting, technology and JumboTrons.
“Our goal is to pay homage to music by providing a showcase for new artists to be seen live on the Sunset Strip and worldwide via our electronic media,” said Billboard Live President Keith Pressman.
The club also books established bands, providing the intimacy of a club with all the gear a top band would use on a multimillion dollar tour, he said.
The main ballroom has a 10′ x 12′ video projector screen so patrons can see the band if it gets crowded. And if it gets really really crowded, or you get really really drunk, five-inch TV screens are embedded in the floor.
Downstairs, members of the exclusive “Board Room” can view the main floor action from wall screens or computers at their tables. For a limited number of personal and corporate paying members, the subterranean Board Room furnishes privacy for celebs seeking their space, along with a virtual cyber office with teleconferencing, Internet access and an e-mail address at the club.
In the mezzanine restaurant, many tables also are equipped with touch-screen computers to watch the stage show, surf the net or order food and drinks. The table-side computers weren’t working when I was there, but may be now.
Behind the scenes, a five-camera video production center is used to record shows and broadcast live inside the club and onto the JumboTrons and Internet. With 35,000 main watts of audio power, and a monitor system with 52 channels and 18 mixes and wedges, it’s the envy of many studios.
“Everything is set up so that as technology changes, we just re-program what we have,” said Steve Strauss, vice president of operations, and former general manager of the nearby House of Blues. “We may not use it all immediately, but we’re having everything wired now, so that when the times comes, we are ready.”
For example, the stage revolves, so one band can be setting up behind the curtain while another band is on stage performing. But they seldom book more than one band a night. They’ve also got 44 permanently installed Vari*lites, when it only takes four to light a KISS concert.
Even by L.A. standards, Billboard Live’s building facade is bodacious, with two 9′ by 12′ JumboTron video marquees projecting movie ads, PSAs, music videos and sometimes simulcasts of live entertainment from inside the club. Within a mile radius, drivers can hear audio transmissions from the JumboTrons on their AM radios. The club sells time on the video marquees for music video promotions and other advertising targeted at the 65,000 vehicles that cruise the Sunset Strip daily.
If that ain’t enough, it’s all fed onto the World Wide Web. With free “streaming video” software called StreamWorks, you can view on your home computer the same thing that is on the Billboard Live JumboTron, which sometimes is what’s going on inside the club.
To view Billboard Live’s streaming video ads, music videos and simulcasts (and get concert dates and Billboard charts), point your Web browser to www.billboardlive.com. Click on the “Stage” link, and then on the big eyeball that says “Live Video.” (If you don’t have the StreamWorks software, you can download it for free at www.streamworks.com. The StreamWorks Web site also has links to other streaming video websites.)
Eventually, the owners of Billboard Live plan to have 12 clubs around the globe, and to link them all by computer. When I asked a manager why, he said that once they have a club in Shanghai, it will be possible to sit at a table at the L.A. Billboard Live, call up on the computer a live streaming video picture of the bar in Shanghai, zoom in on a pretty girl, or, ahem, music industry executive, and be able to buy that person in Shanghai a drink from your table in L.A.