Comedy executives discuss Internet strategy

Audience established, but making money tough

MONTREAL -- The role of the Internet in today's comedy world was one key topic of debate on various panels here on the first day of the inaugural Just Comedy industry conference.

Comedy executives said the Web is a great addition to their arsenal when it comes to reaching fans, but making money remains a challenge.

"We won't turn our back on the traditional television development business," said Lou Wallach, senior vp, original programming, television and digital development for Comedy Central. "But (the Web is) a laboratory and opportunity to complement our development process."

Kenton Allen, creative head, comedy and comedy North, for the BBC said the U.K. broadcaster is open to moving comedic Web ideas to the TV screen, but feels no pressure to force things.

"It's ok to have stuff that works only on the Web," he said.

Confronted with the question of whether online content makes good money yet for their TV networks or will do so any time soon, many signaled there is no real money there yet.

"(The Web) is a bit of development, a bit of promotion and brand - and, I'd assume, no money," offered Anton Leo, creative head of TV comedy, TV arts & entertainment at the CBC and Radio Canada. He explained though that he doesn't get too involved with such business issues on a daily basis.

Michelle Daly, director of content at Canada's The Comedy Network and TV Land: also said the industry is still in the early stages of exploring digital opportunities.

Cristian Cussen, director of content and marketing for MySpace TV, said user-generated content "absolutely plays," and there are select cases where people share such content.

But "monetizing them is tough," he argued.

It's somewhat easier to do content partnership deals with such brands as The Onion and then share advertising revenue that came in specifically due to this content, Cussen said.

However, "the economics right now are tough (for online content). It's a brand building opportunity and incubation opportunity."

Cheetos and Toyota Corolla are among sponsors of MySpace comedic content that Cussen mentioned.