HBO, Los Angeles and the Future of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees were announced earlier this week, the Rock Hall also revealed that the 2013 induction ceremony will be returning to Los Angeles for the first time in 20 years. The ceremony will be held on April 18, 2013 at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live*, the same venue that hosts the Emmys, the American Music Awards, the American Idol finals and many other events. With Cleveland already committed to hosting the Induction Ceremony every three years, there is now the potential for a three-city rotation -- New York, Cleveland and LA.**

The Rock Hall also announced that HBO will be broadcasting the 2013 induction ceremony. HBO and the Rock Hall began their relationship in 2009 with two star-studded 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame fundraising concerts which were held at Madison Square Garden. The show was enough of a success that after Fuse’s broadcast rights expired in 2011, the Rock Hall signed an agreement with HBO to broadcast the 2012 induction ceremony, and now the 2013 broadcast.

One thing in common with all three of the HBO / Rock Hall events so far, is that the concerts have been in large venues, filled with rock fans. There is a very different energy to the induction ceremonies when there are fans screaming, cheering, and booing (sorry, Axl) for the inductees. The broadcasts from the private Waldorf-Astoria events have always seemed awkward on television, especially the performances in front of the (usually) seated tuxedoed crowd. On the other hand, HBO’s broadcasts have captured the electricity of the events, much of which has been provided by the fans. For 2013, it would appear HBO isn’t interested in rocking the boat, preferring to broadcast a rock concert, rather than a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria.

But why Los Angeles? First, this allows the Rock Hall to tap into West Coast philanthropists that may not make it to New York events. Secondly, there is a rich talent pool to draw from to be in the induction ceremony, as either presenters or performers.

HBO’s first induction ceremony this year was packed with big names as presenters and performers. They took full advantage of six performer inductees, the most since 2004, plus all of the backing groups which were part of a special induction. HBO also benefitted from a young-demographic-friendly slate of inductees, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N’ Roses and the Beastie Boys. Green Day even had the unprecedented honor of opening the show with one of their own songs, even though they weren’t being inducted. This all made for great television. It’s unclear how successful the show was ratings-wise, but the ceremony was rebroadcast often throughout the summer.

Assuming the induction ceremony moves back to New York for 2014 (Nirvana!), HBO will likely want use a venue like Radio City Music Hall rather than going back to a hotel ballroom, with significant performance limitations (sets, lighting, cameras, etc.). We’re going to bet that we have seen the last of the old Waldorf, at least as long as HBO is involved.

Things are a little cramped at the Waldorf induction ceremonies

Cleveland’s Public Auditorium is old, but large enough for a professional production.

LA’s Nokia Theatre is a modern venue built for big-time televised events.

* - We’re assuming the Rock Hall will make tickets available to the general public as they did in Cleveland in 2009 and 2012, since the Nokia Theatre has a seating capacity of 7,100, but that hasn’t been announced (Cleveland’s Public Auditorium held roughly 5,000 fans). We’re also assuming tickets won’t be the $50 bargain that they were in Cleveland. For example, ticket prices for the American Music Awards range from $95 to $2200.

** - So what is driving the decision to move the induction ceremony away from its home in New York at the cozy (and invite-only) Waldorf-Astoria? Selling dozens of $30,000 to $100,000 tables at the New York induction ceremony has traditionally been the primary fundraiser for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation. With the music industry in the tank, perhaps the money just isn’t there anymore.

*** - The Rock Hall has long relied on selling the TV rights of the induction ceremonies to partners such as VH1 and VH1 Classic (pre-2009), and more recently Fuse (2009-2011) and now HBO (2012-2013). Lately, the Rock Hall hasn’t been interested in broadcasting the Induction Ceremony live on the internet. Let’s hope they reconsider.

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