Comedy.com has re-entered the market with a bite-sized, mobile-first approach that it believes will attract a wide base of talent and make a comical connection with those coveted but hard-to-reach millennial audiences.
And we can forgive you if you’re experiencing some déjà vu here.
Comedy.com originally launched more than a decade ago, but fizzled out after about two years, when the original founders couldn’t figure out how to monetize what was then a fresh, new digital offering before broadband and smartphones became commonplace.
Barak Shragai, co-founder of the new Comedy.com, licensed the Web domain from the original owners, who are also investing in the new venture.
FOCUS ON WEB STARS
As for that new angle, the focus is on delivering short comedy clips via a base of performers culled from the world of YouTube, Vine and Instagram for ways to reach new platforms using improved production values.
“For most of them, they’re shifting from Vine to create longer-form comedy on Comedy.com … but, in that shift, they need help,” Shragai said. “They don’t just need their mobile phones. They need production people; they need editors, directors, shooters.”
Comedy.com is filling that gap with a crew of about 30 writers and producers with experience developing comedy programming.
Early on, Comedy.com is working with the talent for free in exchange for their content, including some access in exclusive windows. Performers already on board include Woody the Great, Curtis Lepore, Juhahn Jones and JoJoe.
Comedy.com will announce details on its monetization plans in about three months, Shragai said. “For now, it’s more about signing those talents and getting the content, and getting active users,” he said, adding that the business models being pursued include subscriptions and free, ad-supported content.
“Thousands” of would-be users jumped in during the beta phase of Comedy.com, he said. On average, they are watching for more than 8 minutes per session.
While that might not sound like a lot of time, it does break down into a rather large number of clips. That’s because most of Comedy.com’s content is 30 seconds to 90 seconds long — the “optimal range for mobile consumers,” Shragai said. Comedy.com is complementary, rather than directly competitive, to Seeso, NBCUniversal’s new longer-form comedy OTT subscription VOD service, he said.
Longer videos, even those that are 3 minutes to 5 minutes in length, are not as optimized for mobile users and don’t work well in a feed-based video product, Shragai added.
Comedy.com offered about 10,000 videos in its alpha version, a number that has since surpassed 50,000.
What’s surprised the company more is how users are engaging with the platform, which lets users express digital laughter by interacting with the video. They do that by pressing an “LOL” button on the app, which, over time, enables the service to pinpoint the funniest moments inside each video and help to promote the clips that resonate most.
“This level of interaction makes our users more interested in the content. It also increases the retention,” Shragai said, noting that the social aspects of Comedy.com, and not its personalization features, have been the biggest hit with users so far.
That said, Comedy.com also uses an algorithm that personalizes the experience by determining the style of humor users like based on how they are using the app. In-house editors also chip in by curating content based in part on which videos are trending.
Although mobile is Comedy.com’s focus (it has launched apps for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets), it is also working on apps for connected TV platforms and putting a specific target on smart TVs, Roku devices, the Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV.
Notably, the Comedy.com website doesn’t offer any of these short videos, but instead serves as a promotional vehicle for the offering that also directs visitors to the mobile apps.
In addition to the formal service launch, Comedy.com has also notched a $1.5 million round of seed funding from Rhodium, 2B Angels, Sandler Investments, NXTP Labs and some individuals from the digital video, TV and social-media sectors, including Dean Valentine (former CEO of UPN), Nishkaam Mehta (head of mobile growth at Hulu), Rajesh Sawhney (founding president of Reliance Entertainment) and Douglas Cohen (data scientist at Facebook).