Dick Glover, the CEO of Funny or Die, the comedy site known for its smash hit short film "The Landlord," starring Will Ferrell, and Chris Henchy, head of West Coast coordination for Gary Sanchez Productions, a studio started by himself, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, spoke at EconSM about how you can turn a few laughs into a serious business. The panel was moderated by Jordan Levin, CEO of Generate, a next-generation production studio, who said since the site launched about a year ago, it's attracted 18 to 19 million page views, and monthly unique visitors stand at about 3.2 million. In addition, 200 million videos have been watched, while 30,000 have been uploaded.
What do you get when you add a VC, a comedian, and a geek?: "We are not what people would see at Harvard or Stanford business school," said Henchy, "It's set up to take the best of all the worlds." The VCs provide the money, the tech-team is in Palo Alto, and the funny guys are in Hollywood. Glover adds: "Sequoia Capital came to us to create a comedy Web siteWe weren't totally interested, but the more they talked to us, the more they sold us on the idea. They said you can do whatever you want. We thought we'd be involved in the day-to-day mainframes and the infrastructurewe don't know anything about that."
On monetising user-generated networks: The site is primarily supported by advertising, however, the company is looking more at product placements and offline opportunities. For instance, Gary Sanchez will promote its upcoming movie on Funny or Die. "We think those things will go hand in hand," Henchy said. As for product placements, "Clearly what we are very willing to do, is work with them [brands] on content that blurs the line between content and advertising...Where we've had success is in combining online and offline components in custom solutions. While we sell all the standard stuff, and it's the bread and butter, the real play is premium content-based solutions. We are still looking for someone who would work for us to produce the worst-product placement ever done. I think you'll see that someday."
On managing UGC and professional content: Henchy said that it doesn't matter that there is both user-generated content and professional content on the same page. It's filters allow the best content to float to the top. "Comedy is hard, so professional content tends to do better than user-generated content, but the users posting up the videos are the best consumers of the site. Many of them are trying to break into it professionally, and we are learning the craft in that way."
On the company's future: Henchy said they are looking to create new verticals and become a brand both online and offline. "Funny or Die ultimately will be much more than a video site. It will be the comedy studio of the 21st century." The company has also launched Shred or Die with Tony Hawk, Blue Collar or Die, and next week, they will be launching Eat, Drink or Die, which will be a food site with celebrity chefs. In the next six weeks, they'll be doing a site in the video-gaming space, and a couple of other sites are in early development. He's realistic on the timeframe in the sites becoming popular: "We don't kid ourselves, Funny or Die was greatly accelerated by "Landlord." Eat, Drink or Die is a really really cool destination Web site, withing an interesting space, but it will take time to build awareness and build a brand. When it's built, we think there will be great oppotunities offline in merchandising and products."
By Tricia Duryee