Business of comedy gets jolt from new media


MySpace marketers stand up for comedy

MONTREAL -- The digital transformation of the entertainment industry also has changed the comedy business in recent years, and this week's 25th annual Just for Laughs comedy festival here, and its attendees provide plenty of evidence.

"There are so many people who are coming from these new Web, viral video and other departments," said JFL vp programming Maureen Taran. "We have a lot of people coming from the networks and studios on that end. And we have those production companies, such as Endemol, that produce content for the Web."

And next year could bring a further boost of attendees from nontraditional parts of the industry as JFL plans to introduce in 2008 the World Comedy Conference as a comedy marketplace for a global industry working across various platforms.

"We have successfully brought in people from new media, but we can do more," JFL COO Bruce Hills said at a press conference to unveil the new event.

Paul Wagner, vp acquisitions and development at mobile video firm Mocondi, is one of the digital industry representatives at JFL this year, and its his first-ever visit to the annual comedy fixture.

"We just developed a tool that merges advertising and content in a unique way and are dying to find the right comedians to match up with it," he said.

Of course, the digital age has also opened up new job opportunities for comedy folks.

Matt Komen used to work for the HBO festival division and book shows at the Improv clubs, but is now director of content at former UPN head Dean Valentine's

"The Internet is where everything is going, and there is a real appetite now for short bites, especially in comedy," Komen says.

With planning to turn on its lights by the end of summer, "we're looking to do deals with comics that can produce topical content exclusively for us," he says.

With so much demand for new forms of media, JFL has this year expanded its focus on digital age content opportunities. Among such programming that has gotten good reviews from industry folks are viral videos from U.K. duo Straitjacket, as well as showcases of popular Web videos.

With the digital revolution, deal priorities of festival attendees also have changed, according to industry insiders.

"It is not about broadcast network TV deals only now," said Mark Scroggs, agent at David Shapira and Associates. "The day of the seven-minute set, a development deal and possible stardom is over, for the time being at least."

Social networking site MySpace has been expanding its comedy offers, given that its users crave laughs, and comedians can use the site "to build and maintain a fan base and keep it engaged," vp marketing and content Josh Brooks said.

It was no surprise, then, that MySpace expanded its partnership with JFL this year. MySpace marketing manager, comedy, Jordan Ellner said more than 40,000 comedians have registered on the site and use it to keep their fans updated and find new audiences. "They build communities from their pages, and we like being at the festival to do some original programming and stay in the comedy trenches."

For example, comic Greg Fitzsimmons on Friday shot a fake red carpet video for MySpace before and after Andy Kindler's annual State of the Industry address.

Taran is also among those who say that the digital and new-media crowd brings a great attitude to the festival. "The Web world is a really nice group of people to do business with," she said. "It's competitive, of course, but not in the exhausting kind of way."