Black day for Web's BlueCollar

Funny or Die's traffic-challenged sister site closes down

Funny or Die has suffered a death in the family.

A sister Web site to the Will Ferrell-fronted humor hub that once featured the stars of Blue Collar Comedy is being shuttered by FOD's parent company, Or Die Networks. The site is being yanked because its traffic came up short of internal expectations.

BlueCollarOrDie is going down even as ODN, which declined comment, has multiple "Or Die"-branded sites in the offing devoted to niche audiences for extreme sports (ShredOrDie), video games (PwnOrDie) and food (EatDrinkOrDie). Last month, ODN said HBO had taken a stake in the company of less than 10%.

Blue Collar's flameout came despite the pedigree of multiple Hollywood backers with proven track records. In addition to ODN and its venture capital financier, Sequoia Capital, the site's principals were Parallel Entertainment, the management company that turned the Blue franchise into a multimedia powerhouse, and Larry Lyttle, a veteran TV producer brought together with Parallel by their mutual representative, CAA.

"Ultimately, the Blue Collar audience wasn't what it was on other platforms," said Lyttle, former president of Big Ticket Television. "So rather than chase bad money after good money, we decided to stop."

CAA had invested in the project along with Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano -- the law firm that repped the BlueCollarOrDie players -- and another firm, Barnes, Morris, Mark, Yorn & Levine.

Launched in November , the site was modeled on FOD's own mix of marquee celebrity attraction with shortform comedic original programming from lesser-known artists. First introduced as before switching to in February, the site was imbued with the Southern sensibility of Blue man group Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, Ron White and Bill Engvall.

But by May it became clear to the site's partners that what little audience it had built was derived from videos offering pop-culture spoofs far from the Blue Collar style. The site got more comedic mileage taking on figures in the headlines such as Eliot Spitzer, al-Qaida and Hillary Clinton than typical Blue material.

ODN and Parallel quietly agreed to drop the Blue brand from the site and relaunch it as a home for topical satire under a new moniker, Kung Fu Todd.

However, the new brand may have been too little to late. Todd has drawn a meager 20,000 unique visitors per month, according to Lyttle, below the already lackluster 60,000-80,000 BlueCollarOrDie was drawing.

The traffic dropoff led the site's backers to cease production at its Santa Monica headquarters, which employed at least 15 employees in a setting Lyttle described as a "mini- 'Saturday Night Live.' " He said an unspecified seven-figure sum has been spent on the site.

BlueCollarOrDie's collapse leaves the nascent online video category wondering whether the involvement of celebrities or prime Hollywood supporters matter much without somehow recreating the unexpected phenomenon that electrified FOD: Ferrell's video "The Landlord," which is closing in on 58 million streams.

ODN's flop also raises questions for online video's busiest sector: comedy sites such as College Humor, National Lampoon and The conventional wisdom has it that shortform comedy is the most compelling play to reach the Internet's young, male-skewing audience.

There is, however, a distinction between the arrangement ODN has with Parallel and the brand spinoffs that followed it. ODN referred to Parallel as a "technology partner," limiting its involvement to minority investor that supplied technology and advertising sales, whereas with the other sites ODN had creative input as well.

While the Blue crew may not have the star wattage of Ferrell, they are hardly slackers. Under the direction of Parallel CEO J.P. Williams, the quartet of comedians boast an impressive track record in TV, film, home video and concerts. BlueCollarOrDie represents a rare failure to take the brand to new territory.

With TV hits to his credit ranging from "Judge Judy" to "Moesha," Lyttle thinks he knows why. He notes that the demographic skew of the BlueCollarOrDie audience was males over 35, older than the more gender-balanced 18-24 age group advertisers desire because of their viral consumption habits. Lyttle deemed Blue a "mature" brand out of step with the edgier entities making waves online.

"I used to think it daunting to succeed in television, but compared to the Internet, where's there's millions of sites, how do you attract an audience?" he said. "And when you do, how do you monetize? It's so crowded it's impossible to stand out."