It's 'karaoke on steroids'

Spotlight a mix of music, media

NEW YORK -- Spotlight Live, a 22,000-square-foot karaoke restaurant and bar in the heart of Times Square that streams its nightly performances online and on a Times Square video display board, launches its first "Spotlight to Stardom" singing contest Wednesday night, with the winner getting a recording deal with Epic Records.

Comcast, which has a small stake in the restaurant owned by former Jerry Bruckheimer Films development and production executive vp Jennifer Worthington, provides the backend technology for Spotlight Live, enabling it to stream live performances at and allowing customers to upload performances online from the restaurant's recording booths or their home computers. Comcast also will feature footage of the contest on its user-generated Ziddio VOD channel. Video of live performances are streamed to the Times Square board and to the restaurant's interactive tabletop screens through proprietary technology developed by Spotlight Live.

"Spotlight Live is basically karaoke on steroids," said Worthington, who also opened the Coyote Ugly Bar & Dance Saloon at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas in 2001. "We're living in a culture obsessed with celebrity, and the idea was to make that totally accessible in the heart of Times Square. Now we hope to take it to the next level, where you can literally walk in for dinner and walk out a star."

Since Spotlight Live opened it April, such top music talent as Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys and Kanye West have appeared onstage before audiences averaging 400 people on weeknights and 1,500-2,000 on weekends. More celebrities are expected to perform during the contest, which runs through Feb. 7.

Worthington said "Spotlight to Stardom" offers brand partners the opportunity to connect with consumers both online and in a real-world physical setting. Epic and Ziddio signage and logos appear in the restaurant, on the tabletop screens and on the video board.

"We're crafting a very interesting 360-degree entertainment media platform for both consumers and advertisers, and we're really the first significant union of brick and mortar, live entertainment and digital distribution," Worthington said.

Epic Records said its partnership with Spotlight Live created another outlet for the label to find new talent.

"I think what 'American Idol' has really shown the world is that there are great new undiscovered artists out there who just need a platform to gain exposure to the industry and beyond," Epic Records GM Adam Granite said. "We thought this was a great opportunity to have a brick-and-mortar experience extend into the online space and provide us with another outlet to find new talent."

The live venue and online voting components of the contest also allow Epic to immediately judge whether audiences are responding to an artist -- an element that can be lacking with traditional record deals.

The deals Spotlight Live made with Comcast and Epic are seen as mutually beneficial, so no money changed hands. Spotlight Live will have a minority financial interest in the artists signed by Epic, which gets access to new talent and greater industry exposure. Comcast receives free music content from performances that are not part of the contest for its user-generated, contest and noncontest footage for its VOD platform, and increased awareness among consumers.

"We're very excited about the blurring of the lines between professional and user-generated content and having our consumers able to participate in these types of opportunities and the great payoff of being on both on-demand and broadband channels," said Elizabeth Schimel, senior vp entertainment at Comcast Interactive Media. "We're getting great content, we're getting exposure to consumers and we're getting payoff in the musical world. Music is a hugely sticky application for us. Both online and on-demand, there's enormous consumption of music."

For the contest, two finalists will be chosen each week either from live performances at Spotlight Live or from online submissions. One finalist will chosen by online votes and the other by a panel of four judges, including Worthington, Columbia Records A&R executive and former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield, Epic Records artist Kat De Luna and Epic A&R executive Dan Werner. The winner of the contest and the Epic record deal will be chosen by the judges.

Worthington said there are plans to open a Spotlight Live restaurant in Las Vegas in the spring as well as in five Asian cities. There also are plans to hold four "Spotlight to Stardom" contests per year.