Nick Holmstén wants to reinvent the superstar rollout and revitalize Times Square with his new startup, the former Spotify executive tells Billboard.
When Holmstén first sat down with Billboard to unveil his next move in November 2020, he unveiled a “multi-billion-dollar development with a street-facing stage and retail space in Times Square,” in partnership with Fortress Investment Group called TSX Entertainment with plans to open in 2022. A year later, Spotify’s former global head of music and the architect of its playlist strategy has more to share about his new startup, his vision for the future of music marketing, and one of his biggest goals: “I believe there is a fair to big chance that this will be the place where future New Year’s Eve celebrations will be,” Holmstén says.
Holmstén’s TSX Entertainment is part of the massive TSX Broadway development, a 46-story tower being built in New York’s Times Square with a price tag of $2.8 billion. The 550,000 square foot building will house the 108-year-old Palace Theater upon completion, which is being renovated and will be lifted 30 feet off the ground to make room for more retail space. TSX Broadway will also contain a hotel with over 600 rooms, more than 75,000 square feet of retail space, 30,000 square feet for food and beverage, and a massive 8K high-resolution 18,000 square-foot digital screen that will open to reveal a 4,000 square-feet retractable stage with 180 seats that can emerge in less than two minutes and hang over the street below. Once completed that stage will be the only permanent stage in Times Square, offering more capacity for fans and less hassle for companies and artists who want to host events in the area.
TSX Entertainment isn’t focused on using the space for concerts —” We have stayed away from two things: we don’t want to get into the copyright side and we don’t want to go into the concert side,” Holmstén says — but instead want to use the venue as the ultimate rollout space for major artists looking to connect with their fans.
“If you’re thinking about releasing anything in pop culture — I’m not just talking about music — if you want to cut through, you really need to think about how do I make that moment the biggest ever?” Holmstén says, describing his thought process behind launching TSX Entertainment. “How do we create the biggest megaphone ever? We do it at the most trafficked corner in the universe that everybody knows, Time Square is one of a kind,” Holmstén says.
Before the pandemic, Times Square attracted an average of 360,000 people every day, and more than 450,000 people on its busiest days, according to the Times Square District Management Association.
“That’s more people coming to Times Square every day than goes to Lollapalooza, Coachella, and Super Bowl combined — and nothing’s going on,” Holmstén says. “Is there a way we can take that amazing location and combine that with the biggest brands in pop culture and create these moments? That was the core of our strategy, to create the next generation platform to power the most innovative brands and artists.”
Building on that ideal, TSX Entertainment has brought on several high-profile artists and managers as part of an investment round — terms of which it has not disclosed — including The Weeknd and his manager Wassim “Sal” Slaiby, Chris Zarou, the founder of Visionary Group and Logic’s manager, and Austin Rosen, Post Malone’s co-manager. Goldman Sachs will lead fundraising for the next strategic round of funding for TSX Entertainment.
“If there is anything that has become clear, especially over the last two years, it is that artists always need to find new and innovative ways to connect with their fans as things are consistently changing,” Rosen says. “The state-of-the-art experience that TSX is launching feels huge and will be an important platform for artists to reach their audiences. It’s great that Electric Feel artists will be some of the first to utilize and benefit from TSX and I look forward to fan reactions as rollouts begin.”
“Think about weekly takeovers,” Holmstén continues, describing how he wants to utilize the space. “We talked to a lot of Korean artists and they said, ‘We want to fly in our fans from all over the world, we want to curate the hotel rooms with experiences that are both digital and physical and create an event that lasts a week and then have that final moment.’”
TSX Entertainment will offer artists and others — Holmstén is interested in hosting TV and film premiers as well as eSports events — the ability to effectively take over the first 10 floors of the building and customize the experience for their fans. Artists who utilize the space will be able to sell merchandise through the retail space, customize portions of the hotel experience for their fans including things like towels and shampoo bottles, incorporate augmented reality and host events like meet-and-greets, listening parties, and Q&As in three separate indoor venue spaces. TSX Entertainment will take a 25% cut from merchandise sales, with the rest going to the artist or company (“The core piece of revenue is always going to go into the artist,” Holmstén emphasizes). “Very, very few artists are going to be able to do this because we don’t have that many slots,” Holmstén notes. “It will be an asset set that will have a huge scarcity.”
TSX Entertainment is aiming for New Year’s Eve 2022 as its big unveil, with the hopes that it will claim the world’s attention at the start of every year moving forward. “That is our focus,” Holmstén says. “The way we’re scheduling our programing is we’re starting a little bit later in the new year of 2023 and we’ll work our way backwards when we see the building getting closer and closer.”
Holmstén says there’s even a chance he will end up working with Spotify again, along with the other streaming services who are all hefty spenders on marketing campaigns in Times Square. “I had conversations with the DSPs and they are excited because today they are a big driver of artist marketing and they’re spending a lot of money around Times Square,” Holmstén says, noting that “There is a vanity aspect in the entertainment industry that kind of disappeared with technology,” that he’s looking to address. “We’re becoming the new alternatives where you can create more than just a billboard with a stage and all the other facilities. And I think there’s going to be a lot of new interesting partners coming in when this opportunity opens up to create these events.”