Funny is money: NBC plans to launch a Web-based subscription comedy service this year, the network confirms. But much else about the initiative, disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, remains unclear — in part because it’s still in the early planning stage.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and SNL likely would help to anchor the service, being designed to target viewers under 35 years old. But it also could provide a home for original content from inside and outside the company, the Journal reports. The channel could cost subscribers as much as $3.50 a month.
NBC’s EVP of digital enterprises Evan Shapiro is leading the initiative. The former president of IFC TV and Sundance Channel joined in December to “work on the company-wide strategic development of digital opportunities to reach emerging audiences, including alternative platforms and direct to consumer distribution models,” NBC said at the time.
It’s unclear how the comedy service would affect NBC’s existing arrangements, including ones that put recent SNL episodes on Hulu and the show’s library on Yahoo. Clips from Tonight often run on YouTube, but NBC does not share revenue with the Google-owned service. Execs are working on windowing plans to give consumers an incentive to subscribe to the Web service, but not cut others off completely.
Like other networks, NBC is eager to reach young audiences that view videos on digital and mobile devices — and often don’t subscribe to traditional pay TV. Nielsen doesn’t count many of these viewers, which means networks can’t sell ads against them. But NBC hopes to target its Web audiences more narrowly than, say, CBS — which last year introduced its CBS All Access streaming service, and online news service CBSN.
NBC sees that opportunity in comedy. “We think about 70% of the views of Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show occur online and that the majority of those views are un-monetized, completely un-monetized,” NBCUniversal chief Steve Burke told analysts last week. “So here you have one of the hottest shows on television where 70% of the views are in an area that we don’t get credit for it. That’s not going last forever.”
CBS chief Les Moonves similarly told his investors last month that the company hopes to cash in this September when Steven Colbert takes over The Late Show, and James Corden hosts The Late Late Show. “We will own these shows for the first time, which will allow us to monetize late night in all sorts of new ways on a variety of emerging platforms,” the CEO said.