Los Angeles Business Journal

Set-Up, Delivery

ENTERTAINMENT: Laugh Factory sees online platform as next stage in club chain’s expansion. By Jonathan Polakoff Monday, April 8, 2013
Owner Jamie Masada outside his Laugh Factory Hollywood comedy club.

Owner Jamie Masada outside his Laugh Factory Hollywood comedy club. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Content will include The Fresh Faces Channel, which will showcase up-and-coming talent, as well as The Kevin Nealon Show Channel, which will features the “Weeds” actor and “Saturday Night Live” alum chatting on stage with other comedians.

Koenders said he plans to use viewer preferences to recommend future videos and to add custom pages for comedians on the Laugh Factory site that can serve as a kind of one-stop destination for fans to see a performer’s bio, tour dates and social media posts.

Laugh Factory will sell advertising on the videos, many of which will be available for free viewing. Viewers also will have the option of subscribing for premium content. Pricing has not yet been determined, but will likely be about $3 per month or $20 to $30 per year, Koenders said.

Underlying it all is the challenge of directing traffic to the website in an environment where there are already a large number of outlets for comedy content.

To that end, Masada said he’s hired four social media employees and plans to tap into the online fan bases of the comedians who appear in the videos. He hopes they will view themselves as partners in the effort and encourage fans to sign up.

It’s an ambitious strategy that is hoping to take advantage of the increasing fragmentation of audiences.

Many comics have already taken to podcasting, which allows the creators to either self-distribute through iTunes or use a network like Santa Monica’s Nerdist Industries for greater exposure.

The self-distribution strategy has drawn particular interest after comedian Louis C.K. sold a standup special as a download through his website for $5 each in 2011 and generated more than $1 million in revenue within weeks, although few other comedians have the following to pull off such a feat. Other performers have formed their own online portals, such as Funny or Die Inc., co-founded by Will Ferrell.

Perhaps the greatest appeal in doing such digital productions is the ability for the comics to side-step the creative constraints of television networks and studios while also taking advantage of the Internet’s nearly infinite distribution.

But winners and losers online are already being chosen, and Laugh Factory will face competition with Netflix, Hulu and others.

Peter Levin, chief executive at Nerdist, said the Laugh Factory plan has potential if the content is good.

Consumers will be looking for more ways to purchase content a la carte through so-called microsubscriptions that cost a few dollars a month, he said.

“I think subscription services inevitably are going to have a very material role in the suite of product offerings out there,” he said. “It depends on the execution.”

But Masada has faith that Laugh Factory can cash in on its reputation as a place that guarantees people funny stuff.

“People trust the brand,” he said. “They know if they go to the club, they’ll laugh.”

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