NBC's Comedy Hub: Who Will Pay Extra for Digital Laughs?

Evan Shapiro - S 2015
Anders Krusberg/Seeso

Evan Shapiro - S 2015

Despite having only two comedies in its primetime lineup, the network is promising more than 20 original, digital-only genre series for its new niche service.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

NBC's primetime lineup includes only two comedies, but the company is investing big in the genre online.

On Oct. 15, NBCUniversal unveiled the comedy-only subscription video service Seeso, a $3.99-a-month, ad-free offering set to launch wide in January with more than 20 original series and stand-up specials from creators including Dan Harmon (Community), Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show) and Upright Citizens Brigade. "If you want to find out if we get you the good shit, you need to see so for yourself," explains NBCU executive vp digital enterprises Evan Shapiro of the unusual name.

The site will leverage NBC's catalog of comedy brands, including The Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, to draw subscribers. And because that programming also is available on services like Hulu, which NBCU co-owns, Seeso hopes to keep viewers coming back with exclusive classics such as Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Kids in the Hall.

Seeso's comedy focus sets it apart from other TV network digital services. CBS' All Access, launched in 2014, offers live streaming and on-demand libraries of current and classic titles. HBO and Showtime have debuted similar services as well. But will viewers subscribe to a niche product when they might already be spending money for broader libraries from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu? "We don't have enough hours in the day to consume content from all these different services," says Frost & Sullivan media analyst Dan Rayburn. "I view it as a watered-down service competing with other services that have more depth and breadth of content."

Shapiro counters that individual viewers have a hard time finding content tailored to them on those larger services. "Being all things to all people isn't necessarily fitting the bill for every consumer," he says, adding that Seeso will offer on-demand video playlists curated by staff and guests each month.

Although Seeso initially will lean heavily on NBC content, Shapiro says the Comcast-owned company views the startup as a separate network brand — one that happens to be accessed via a broadband connection. Says Shapiro: "The goal was not to replace linear products but to complement all of those services. We are serving a demographic that isn't being served on all of our other channels."