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The 2013-14 Upfront

Comedy Central Brings Live Stand-Up to Your Phone

Symbiotic relationship with Web video

Comic Amy Schumer

This June, stand-up comedy is coming to your cellphone. And your iPad. And your connected TV. And your computer. It’s all part of Comedy Central’s CC: Stand-Up app, a sort of video encyclopedia of comedians that features a regularly updated livestream of new content and a suggestion feature designed to recommend the next installment in a comedy binge.

It’s also ad-supported, which dovetails nicely with the Viacom cable network’s big upfront push. And it represents the next step in the ongoing battle to engage the young men who often sidestep TV in favor of video games.

“Millennials have been harder to engage because there are so many platforms to reach them,” explained network president Michele Ganeless. Now, with a huge catalog of bits from the likes of Louis C.K., Nick Kroll and Kristen Schaal, Comedy Central is trying to recreate with a slick new interface the same kind of experience consumers get on YouTube, much like what SNL is doing with Yahoo.

Comedy Central has several advantages. The clips on CC: Stand-Up (which is rolling out on iOS, Xbox Live and the company’s website, with Android support to come) are all professionally produced and edited, as opposed to cellphone camera footage captured at the local Chuckle Hut, and are curated by the network’s programmers. Advertisers looking to buy Louis can do so; advertisers interested in the new stuff can buy the new stuff.

Nielsen ratings have not been Comedy Central’s strongest suit over the last couple of years. Horizon Media research Brad Adgate says the network’s total deliveries are down two years running, but he’s not sure that matters. “They’re effective in targeting young males,” he said. “If you’re that adept at reaching that group, winning the ratings race is not as important because they have that high concentration of their core viewers.” Adgate also suspects those viewers are on other screens, too.

Comedy Central’s new programming this year reflects its symbiotic relationship not just with stand-ups but with Web video in general. Veteran comic Daniel Tosh not only has bragging rights to the most popular show on the network—the most recent new episode drew 2.26 million viewers, more than tripling Comedy Central’s prime-time average for the week—but Tosh.0 also happens to be a show built around online video. Moreover, the stars of Comedy’s biggest scripted show in recent years, Workaholics, got the network’s attention with a Web series. Comic Amy Schumer’s new show (April 30) is an outgrowth of her CC Studios-produced Web series, and there are plans to launch a linear TV show based on Funny or Die’s Drunk History.

Ad “volume is going to be up,” predicts MTV Networks’ head of ad sales, Jeff Lucas, who added that cable will benefit from a weakened broadcast marketplace. “You get better volume on cable, and you get less waste.”

Adgate said that the new video tool is the next logical step for a network that is aggressive about putting its high-profile shows into ad-supported online players as quickly as possible. “This extends the brand into a place where the expectations are different.”

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