The MSG Sphere in Las Vegas Lights up Discussions About Its Viability

On July 4, 2023, Sphere Entertainment unveiled the Exosphere, its exterior feature display that illuminated the Las Vegas skyline with a mesmerizing display of dynamic, animated content. This cutting-edge display transformed Sphere into a global landmark, at least with memes and online coverage. The Exosphere comprises approximately 1.2 million LED pucks, meticulously spaced eight inches apart. Each puck boasts 48 individual LED diodes capable of displaying an astounding 256 million different colors. If that sounds like a lot so does The Sphere’s construction costs of $2.3 billion. Madison Square Gardens (MSG), the parent company, had estimated the cost at $1.2 billion in 2018. The pandemic and supply chain issues have conspired to more than double the price, and there is no clear path to profitability, no matter how spectacular the display. Not that it is stopping MSG from planning an even bigger Sphere in London.

The Exosphere, spanning an impressive 580,000 square feet, showcased its immense capabilities for the first time on that day. Serving as the largest LED screen on Earth, this extraordinary canvas wowed the audience with its imagery and scale. But, The Sphere doesn’t like to think of itself as just a screen or a billboard; its executives like to say it is living architecture. The execs also like to say that it can serve as a 360-degree canvas for brand storytelling, or advertising as it is called by the rest of the us. It is also a concert venue, a new kind of movie theater, and a destination. The Sphere is meant to be all things to all possible paying customers and sponsors, and it seems as if the chief attraction is that there is no display in the world that can match it for spectacle.

Source: Sphere Entertainment

That expectation comes with a tremendous requirement for resources. Recently, Sphere Entertainment launched Sphere Studios, a division dedicated to developing content for its massive displays. No surprise that the studio’s first innovation is Big Sky, an ultra-high-resolution camera system. Big Sky features the world’s sharpest cinematic lenses and a single sensor capable of capturing incredibly detailed, large-format images. Unlike traditional methods that require stitching together content from multiple cameras, Big Sky allows filmmakers to capture high-resolution images seamlessly. The camera system has been developed specifically to provide the stunning visuals needed for Sphere’s ultra-high-resolution LED screen. Sphere Studios has filed multiple patents associated with Big Sky, and its first production, Postcard from Earth, is currently underway, offering a unique and visually captivating perspective on the beauty of our planet.

Big Sky camera. (Source: Sphere Entertainment)

Sphere Studios aims to bring together top filmmakers and producers to create visually stunning and immersive experiences that incorporate sound, haptics, and environmental elements, hitting all the notes for The Sphere. The studio’s interdisciplinary team provides full in-house creative and production services, and their facilities include production suites, sound stages, and labs for camera development and 3D printing. That’s a lot of investment to deliver an experience for one theater, albeit the biggest premium large format (PLF) cinema in history.

You could say that this the classic example of something that could only happen in Vegas. No other city in the world has the appetite for excess that America’s gambling capital has, and that’s probably what Sphere Entertainment is hoping for. However, there is still some months before The Sphere opens, and there are probably many years before it becomes profitable, if it ever does. Eventually, we will find out if Kevin Costner got it right: if you build it, they will come.