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NEW YORK About 5,000 square feet in an office building at the corner of Manhattan’s 40th Street and Avenue of the Americas will become the city’s next major studio space by mid-March.
But the company that is looking to transform the gutted former conference room space into two sets, seven edit rooms, a state-of-the-art control room and a green room is not one of the traditional media and entertainment companies in town. It is Internet giant Yahoo, which is these days mostly in the news for exploring its strategic alternatives, including the sale of a minority stake to outside investors.
Michael Manas, head of production supervision, Yahoo! Studios New York, is only focused on what his team will be able to do with the new HD studio space though. His father, a broadcast pioneer, built a studio as well. “This is a once in a lifetime chance,” Manas says. “This is showing Yahoo’s commitment to premium video content. The studio will be a massive source of pride and enhance our ability to grow and innovate.”
The midtown Manhattan facility in a building at 111 W 40th Street, in which Yahoo has office space, will add to Yahoo’s existing studios at its headquarters in Sunnyvale, Calif. and Santa Monica. While AOL has some facilities in its New York office, bigger rival Google doesn’t have a studio in town, according to Manas.
The company will also change the adjacent space that is currently full of cubicles for about 120 staff into a newsroom set-up. Under a partnership announced this fall, ABC News and Yahoo will also co-produce content, and the newsroom and New York studio will play a role here, even though no details are available at this time.
How much is Yahoo spending on the Manhattan project? “Just enough to win,” Manas says. “Because of the size of our audience, they expect us to be broadcast quality. We wouldn’t give our viewers anything less. We’re a network and a big digital media company. We have American Idol numbers with our 26 [original video] shows.”
In research firm comScore’s monthly list of the top 50 U.S. Web properties, Yahoo once again ranked second for October. Google sites reached 186 million unique visitors, Yahoo sites tied with Microsoft for 173 million, and Facebook and AOL came in next with 166 million and 108 million uniques, respectively.
The online company cites data from research firms that show that 26.5 million people in the U.S., or one in eight online Americans, watched a
Yahoo Studios original video program in October. That is more than the number of people who visited Hulu.
In announcing a slate of female skewing shows, Yahoo said earlier this year that it has nine of the top 10 shows on the Web, including omg Now, Trending Now, Daily Ticker, Prime Time In No Time, ODD News and SportsMinute.
That said, the company is deliberate in its NY studio spending, Manas emphasizes. “We are very prudent and spend our money smartly.” Yahoo will be hiring here to staff the studio operation, but it is hard to define a number at this stage, he added. “We grow intelligently,” Manas emphasized.
One of the two New York sets will be a finance set. The other will be used for sports, entertainment, women, men, fashion and other content forms. Currently, Yahoo is leasing a nearby studio space that it got for its Breakout show. That studio lease ends in March. Breakout, along with Trending Now and Daily Ticker will be filmed in the new studio once it is complete.
In addition to established New York shows, others are expected to be launched in the coming months, even though the company won’t discuss specific plans yet. Plus, “every Yahoo vertical will do stuff here,” along with Yahoo bloggers and reporters, Manas said. “There are no boundaries.”
Manas also acknowledges that with sets on the two coasts, talent in front of cameras in California and New York could well interact in the future. “It is our desire to have dynamic relationship and transmit together between East and West Coast,” he says without sharing full plans yet.
Manas sees one big advantage in having major studio space in New York in the ability to bring in media and advertising folks to share the excitement and potentially pique their interest for partnering with or working for Yahoo. “I’m a big believer that people should kick the tires and that clients or potential clients should be able to visit and see what we do,” he says.
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