NBCUniversal Launching Comedy-Only SVOD Service, Seeso

By Tim Baysinger Comment

NBCUniversal is betting that viewers have a huge appetite for comedy, announcing plans Thursday morning for a subscription streaming service centered entirely on the genre.

Unveiled as a press event at NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises’ office in SoHo, Seeso, as it’s called, will feature a mix of new and old content, all funny.

“It’s the most popular genre out there by a long stretch,” said Evan Shapiro, evp of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, who joined the company 10 months ago from cable startup Pivot. The service–which will be advertiser-free and cost $3.99 per month–is not meant as a challenge to streaming behemoths Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. In fact, Shapiro said NBCU isn’t pulling any of its content already licensed to those services. “This is a complement, not a replacement,” he said. “This is meant to fill a white space.”

Seeso will launch as an invite-only beta version in December, then fully launch in January. Shapiro said they expect to be on all OTT platforms by the end of the first quarter. NBC is in talks with pay-TV providers as well. (It doesn’t hurt that parent company Comcast is the biggest of them all). A free version of Seeso will feature between 10 to 15 percent of the content available on paid version.

Shapiro said the larger OTT players want to be “all things to all people” which has created a new-age version of traditional cable packages. “When you have kids and horror and everything in between, what you’ve done, basically, is create a new version of the bundle,” he said. “Our approach was to take a cable point of view to OTT.”

The content on Seeso will be a mix of NBC shows, including the U.S. and U.K. versions of The Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, as well as late night series Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show and Late Night. Seeso will have the entire 40-year catalog of SNL as well as current episodes the day after they air (also true for Late Night and Tonight Show). Seeso will also have the entire library of Monty Python and Kids in the Hall – both will be re-mastered in high-definition. Other content includes stand-up series, daily stand-up specials and three to five movies per month.

Seeso plans to roll out around 20 exclusive new series per year. But unlike Netflix or Amazon, the new shows will be released weekly. Many will feature recognizable NBC talent including SNL and Parks and Recreation alum Amy Poehler and Dan Harmon, creator of Community. Broadway Video’s digital content studio Above Average will produce two shows: the first is a workplace comedy Thingstarter. The other, described as the dating game meets improv, is called Dave & Ethan: Lovemakers.

Seeso will take a page from the playbook of another streaming service—-Sony’s Crackle-—by employing autoplay, so when a user signs in, there will already be something playing. Also, as with Crackle, there will be a “hunt while you watch” feature which will include a menu of related content on the side of the screen. However, unlike most streamers which use computer algorithms, all content curation will be done by actual humans.

“People instead of machines programming channels,” said Shapiro. Funny, indeed.