MTV Entertainment Group Bulks Up Web Show Production

Two Comedy Central series part of broader push

Comedy Central has unveiled two new Web-only shows that come amidst a broader reorganization at MTV Entertainment Group aimed at developing stand-alone content online.

The shows—a four-part game show series called the Axe Dirtcathlon starring former Comedy Central correspondent Rob Riggle, and the other an interview/talk show called The Download starring comedian Jordan Rubin and former Defamer blogger Molly McAleer—mark one of Comedy Central’s first forays into branded content online, and a new focus at MTVN Entertainment Group on Web-only material.

The Dirtcathlon is sponsored by Axe Shower Gel and conceived around a theme that is in keeping with Axe’s brand—contestants essentially compete to get as dirty as possible (hence the relevance of a shower product). Similarly, The Download is sponsored by Samsung and features interviews with a variety of celebrity guests, including Samantha Ronson and Jerry O’Connell speaking on tech and Web-related topics.

“I think we’re living in a world now where, on digital platforms, the advertising expectation is for something original,” said Erik Flannigan, the executive at MTVN Entertainment Group overseeing the effort. “They don’t want to just be associated with something. They want to bring it you. So the marketplace demand for branded entertainment has gone up.”

This past February, MTVN Entertainment Group—the entity at MTV Networks that oversees Comedy Central, Spike, and TV Land—began reorganizing its Web production staff to form a dedicated arm that would focus solely on creating content across its brands. Previously, producers on the network’s regular shows lent their efforts to the production of Web-only content. Executives are shying away from calling it a full-fledged studio just yet, but that seems to be the direction in which the unit is headed.

MTVN currently has five staff members working full-time for this not-quite-studio, and Viacom has pumped some money—Flannigan declined to get into specifics but put the figure in the six- rather than the seven-figure range—into the initiative thus far. Comedy Central’s new series are the first to come out of this new production arm, though Flannigan says other programs are in the works and that they’re not all for Comedy Central—some projects are currently in development for Spike.

And while the new production arm is not necessarily centered on creating branded advertorial content per se, Flannigan said that it's definitely factored into executives' calculations: “In my ideal world, we solved two things at the same time.” He added, “Listen, it's not going to work for the advertisers or for us if the audience rejects it and thinks we're shilling and it’s not funny.”