Why L.A.'s Westside Is Seeing a Digital Studio Boom

Westside Digital Studio Bar Interior - H 2013
Courtesy of Tastemade

Westside Digital Studio Bar Interior - H 2013

Top talent are flocking to cutting-edge facilities owned by the likes of YouTube and other companies.

A version of this story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

For a recent episode of the dinner party web series Sorted Food @ The Table, the show’s affable British hosts flew to L.A. to sit down for a meal in a stylish space that, with its sculptural wood wall and flooring woven with reclaimed leather belts, would look right at home next to Gjelina on Abbot-Kinney. In reality, the episode was filmed on the Santa Monica set of the food-centric Tastemade, one of several online multi-channel networks that have built their own production facilities to create digital content.

“We consider it a sign of success that others are building facilities to support a higher level of content production,” says YouTube’s Liam Collins. “Our hope is that [our facility] is a catalyst.”

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With backing from Redpoint Ventures, Tastemade, which launched last year and claims nine million monthly unique visitors across its 100-plus member channels, built a 7,000 square foot studio that features three working kitchen sets, including one airy space outfitted in new appliances donated by KitchenAid. In March the two-year-old Big Frame moved into a 14,000 square foot Culver City space that the network renovated to add greenscreen rooms, full edit bays and, soon, a 3,000 square foot soundstage. And mammoth Maker Studios, with more than 3 billion monthly views, more than doubled the size of its Culver City campus in January, to 70,000 square feet. One of its most popular videos, the rap battle parody “Barack Obama vs Mitt Romney” from channel ERB, has racked up 65.6 million views and features Abe Lincoln dropping in via eagle, made possible thanks to Maker’s green-screen capability and in-house props department.

“YouTube-based companies have to be mindful of production costs,” says Matt Clawson, Maker vp of facilities. “At the level and frequency we create at, it’s really about accessibility.”

And quality equipment increasingly is affordable, allowing for fully stocked studios on web video budgets. “These days, you’re just not going to get away with a poorly-shot, poorly-lit thing anymore,” says Jack Ferry, a producer at My Damn Channel, which built a livestreaming studio in its New York City offices last year. “Equipment has gotten cheaper and smaller. There’s no excuse not to have higher production values.”