Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Intrigue & Above Avalon Premium Weekly Recap

Along with periodic Above Avalon posts, I send out an exclusive daily email about Apple to members (10-12 stories per week). You can subscribe here. The following story was sent to members on August 31st. 

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium Intrigue

Apple keynotes are products in themselves. While it is easy to spot the immense level of training and practice that goes into delivering the keynote, the entire event plays a role in how Apple wants to explain itself to the world. 

In today's media landscape, an Apple keynote has taken on a different role, maturing from the single most important way to drum up interest in a product, to one step in a series of events, interviews, and presentations aimed to keep Apple at the top of the ever-changing news cycle. Along those lines, an Apple keynote, all the way down to the venue choice, can be an incredibly useful and valuable piece for figuring out Apple marketing and strategy. 

Over the past four years, Apple has relied on three primary locations for its keynotes: Town Hall at Apple HQ, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, and of course Moscone West for WWDC. The one exception was last year's iPhone 6/6 Plus and Apple Watch event held at the Flint Center. That particular venue was noteworthy not just for its larger auditorium seating capacity, but also for the clear excitement and anticipation surrounding the event as Apple entered its first new product category since the iPad in 2010.

Past Apple keynotes: 

  • 2012 - February 22 - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • 2012 - WWDC - Moscone West
  • 2012- September 12 - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • 2013 - WWDC - Moscone West
  • 2013 - September 10 - Town Hall at Apple HQ
  • 2013 - October 22 - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • 2014 - WWDC - Moscone West
  • 2014 - September 9 - Flint Center for the Performing Arts at De Anza College
  • 2014 - October 16 - Town Hall at Apple HQ
  • 2015 - March 9 - Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
  • 2015 - WWDC - Moscone West

Seating capacities for these locations ranged from the smaller Town Hall (301) and Yerba Buena Center (757) to Flint Center (2,405). WWDC has 5,000 total attendees although not everyone is able to have a seat in the main Moscone West keynote room. 

Speculation over Apple's upcoming event started to take off last week when Hoodline, a San Francisco neighborhood news site, published a story about there being quite a bit of activity taking place at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium despite nothing being publicly planned for the venue until mid-September.

Regulars began to notice security guards and police officers stationed around the building. In addition, there had been quite a bit of construction activity, including the installation of large power generators and AC units outside blocking a few lanes of traffic. One Hoodline reader commented that he saw forklifts bringing in what appeared to be temporary flooring. Apparently, whatever was being done inside had been going on for weeks.

Last Wednesday, Hoodline ran a story that said Apple was indeed the company up to something at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and that there were a number of street closures around the building planned for the week of September 8th to 10th. As a fun fact, the Apple II was introduced at the same location in 1977 at the West Coast Computer Faire. Back then it was called the San Francisco Civc Auditorium. My interest was piqued by the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium being the choice for Apple's next keynote. 

After Apple sent out event invites this past Thursday, I took a closer look at the venue choice since it still stood out to me. The first thing that caught my attention was that the building is quite large with a 7,000-person capacity, which is nearly 10x larger than the Yerba Buena Center. The other aspect of the location that seemed a bit strange is its layout and floor plan. It is actually an arena with a high ceiling. Along with music concerts, the venue is used for trade shows and sporting events. There is a large flat seating area (similar to Moscone) surrounded by a significant amount of balcony seating in a U-shape. It is quite different from prior Apple keynote venues. 

Using such a large venue for an Apple product unveiling obviously brings up the question if Apple is planning on having a large guest list including press and guests from a wide range of industries. Last year, Apple invited quite a few additional people to the Apple Watch unveiling at the Flint Center. Not only were there people from the fashion and fitness industries on hand, including more celebrities than normal, but there were also a significant number of Apple employees in attendance. Most of the Flint Center's 2,500 seats were filled. What could Apple possibly do with an area with nearly 4,500 additional seats?

After posting that question on Twitter, I didn't find much evidence to suggest that Apple had invited that many more people than was the case with previous events. However, I did start to get a few clues as to what Apple may have had in mind by choosing the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. One Above Avalon member pointed me to a tweet musing that Apple may look to transform the inside of the building into a space that would be completely unrecognizable. Last year, Dot Party, an event series created by Markus Persson, creator of Minecraft, held a concert at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. After quite a bit of construction, the space was turned into a pretty interesting concert/music hall. 

A few people have speculated Apple may in fact be building an entire structure within the arena (which explains all of the extra air cooling machinery). Think of something like an enclosed stage/audience seating area positioned next to another completely enclosed room housing the demo area. One large open space would be turned into a series of still-large rooms. 

Putting all of the pieces together, it is likely that Apple chose the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium due to the ability to customize the space much more than what would be possible at locations like the Yerba Buena Center. In addition, the space is able to handle a more decent-sized crowd than Town Hall at Apple HQ. However, it does not seem likely that Apple is planning on having a record guest list numbering close to 7,000 people. 

Judging by the Apple event invitation byline of "Hey Siri, give us a hint." one can deduce that Siri will play a pivotal role in the event. In addition, with rumors that Apple will unveil a new Apple TV, the prospects of a Siri-controlled Apple TV may require unique stage and demo areas. Don't forget how Apple constructed an entire temporary structure next to the Flint Center last year just to house a special demo area. The same level of construction seems to be occurring at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, only inside. 

Eventually, Apple will host many of its product events at the 1000-seat underground auditorium being built at Apple Campus 2. However, I would not be shocked if Apple still goes elsewhere for a keynote from time to time (like WWDC and other locations). The ability to suit a particular site for a specific product can be incredibly rewarding.   

A few weeks worth of construction at a new venue means that the location for this upcoming Apple keynote will add to the mystery and intrigue leading up to September 9th. 

Along with the preceding story, the full list of stories sent to Above Avalon members this week included: 

Apple Watch's Biggest Competitor

The Android Smartwatch Army

Apple's Original Programming Temptation

Apple Event "Leaks"

Global Smartphone Trends for July

The Apple/Cisco Partnership

Apple Takes Washington

Thursday Q&A: How is the premium email going? Spoiler: It's going great.

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