AMC Networks Buys Stake in Funny Or Die for Content and Ad Sales Partnerships With IFC

Turner and HBO remain minority investors

TV has a new comedy duo: IFC and Funny Or Die.

AMC Networks has acquired a minority stake in Funny Or Die so its comedy network, IFC, can partner with the comedy website on multiplatform content as well as ad sales and marketing.

The companies teamed up on a pair of IFC miniseries, 2014's The Spoils of Babylon and 2015's The Spoils Before Dying, as well as the upcoming series Brockmire, which stars Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet and will debut on IFC next spring. Brockmire originated as a Funny Or Die short.

"We did have the great fortune of working together, and obviously that's the best way to get to know, deeply and intimately, the people that are on the other side of the table and their culture," said IFC president Jennifer Caserta. "We have so many similarities, yet our businesses are structured very differently. And we thought with the changing times and what's happening in the media landscape, we can do great things together and continue to do great things together."

Future collaborations, execs said, could include Funny Or Die programming blocks on IFC, new content on linear and digital platforms, and advertising and marketing partnerships. The goal, said Caserta, is "to create great comedic content that serves us both well."

While Caserta is joining the Funny Or Die board, Funny Or Die will continue to operate independently and work with other distributors, networks and studios, including its other media investors, Turner and HBO.

When Turner took its stake in Funny Or Die four years ago, the company also began handling ad sales. But Funny or Die's ad sales team was brought back in house in February 2015, and they'll remain there under the AMC Networks deal.

"Funny Or Die will keep our independent sales team, but l we will look to collaborate with them on specific projects and other ideas that come up that hopefully create win-wins, both for the audience and the brand partners," said Funny Or Die CEO Mike Farah.

The companies have no specific plans for future advertising partnerships.

"What we've done for other brands feels very much alike in terms of inviting advertisers in to the comedy space, having fun with creating branded content either in our shows or adjacent to our shows," said Caserta. "We're looking forward to doing more of that together, and we think we can complement each other quite well."

The AMC Networks-Funny Or Die union is reminiscent of other deals in which linear media companies have taken a stake in digital companies to extend their reach in that platform, like NBCUniversal's investments in Buzzfeed and Vox or Turner's partnership with Mashable.

"Oftentimes when you hear about these investments, they might not seem so aligned, but this one truly does," said Caserta. "Our comedic sensibilities and our corporate cultures are very much the same."

Added Farah: "Our core business will and always be digital, but we've had some success in TV. So it really feels additive and a way that we can accelerate our growth and our plans for making great content and things that we feel no one else can make. Working with them gives us a higher profile. We have a shared audience. But also, to be on their air more often is great for us."

The execs had no comment on the size of AMC Networks' investment or whether it was closer to Turner's stake, which is reportedly 12 percent, or HBO's of under 5 percent.

Don't look for Funny Or Die material to end up on AMC Networks' other channels like AMC or SundanceTV. 

"This was structured as a relationship that would benefit IFC and Funny Or Die because we're both in the same landscape and have been working together," said Caserta. "So it's specific to our relationship." 

The deal throws a lifeline to the struggling Funny Or Die, which unsuccessfully explored a sale in 2014 and laid off 30 percent of its work force in August, shutting down its Silicon Valley office.

"A process like that is never fun for anymore," said Farah of the layoffs. "It was a decision that I and other leaders and the board made, to double back down on our content and our premium content and the things that we could create that no one else could. That's why this investment from AMC and IFC is such a perfect fit, because the shared sensibility from the content, it really is the most important thing. We aspire to make the types of shows that they make, so it really allows us to do our core business even better."

Beyond working together on Brockmire, Caserta said, "we have ideas of what we'd like to do that are both low-hanging fruit and new ideas that will be created as part of this collaboration, but there's nothing to announce specifically as of yet."

"We've already been experimenting with and thinking about ideas in which we can create content that feels fresh and different and plays into some of the other ways outside of 22-minute formats that comedy is created and watched," she said "We hope to be really thoughtful curators, which is something that we're both really good at."