One of the hottest comedy brands in the world launched in Australia last week. The low-key launch of Viacom International Media Network’s Comedy Central caught a number of comedy fans and professionals off-guard as the site launched with just a handful of clips of the brand’s marquee US series available to stream.
The launch of the website is just the start of establishing the Comedy Central brand in Australia. It’s the first phase in what Simon Bates, Vice President, Head of MTV & Comedy Central ANZ, has cited as a bigger plan to grow a big comedy business in Australia.
ALSO: Comedy Central launches TV channel on Fetch TV.
Comedy Central, the home of recognised comedy TV shows like The Daily Show, Inside Amy Schumer, South Park, and Key & Peele, has already established a well-recognised footprint in Australia, with their shows already available on Foxtel’s The Comedy Channel, SBS, and streaming service Stan. While their marquee titles may be licensed elsewhere, Bates is coy on any details regarding plans to launch a linear Comedy Central TV channel locally.
“It’s definitely not off the cards. I can’t announce anything now, but we’d certainly love to have a Comedy Central TV channel in Australia and we hope to have one in the future,” he said.
Bates also remained quiet on whether a Comedy Central launch would take place on a platform like Foxtel, or whether it would launch an SVOD service. “We’ll look at all of those options,” Bates said. “This is the start and it’s an important start. We’ve definitely felt and we can see the demand for the content and the brand with a very high awareness already.
“Even in the 24 hours since the site went live, the awareness is so high for a brand that we’ve never communicated in this country – everybody knows it. It does feel like we’re pushing on an open door and we need to just take our product to consumers in the best way possible that makes commercial sense.”
The Comedy Central website is built with a mobile first audience in mind. Bates reveals that approximately 70% of site visitors to the local MTV site are now from mobile users and he expects a similar rate for Comedy Central.
“We’ve seen huge growth in our MTV Digital business, which is partly what’s prompted moving forward with this project,” Bates said. “The confidence around it. There will probably be more mobile products from Comedy Central in Australia before too long.”
Does that include connected TV devices, like the Apple TV? “All of that,” said Bates with a laugh, careful not to reveal too much.
While similar international cable TV brands like Adult Swim have come and gone in terms of setting up a local presence, Bates is confident that the Australian Comedy Central launch will be successful. “We feel like there’s a low risk for us as there’s a strong appetite and large numbers of people in Australia looking for [Comedy Central] content, particularly from the American site,” Bates explained. “We feel we can unlock the content and give them a local Australian version with added local commissions and local editorial. We’ve started to invest in house with permanent staff based in Sydney writing for Australians. That’s a compelling and relatively unique offering.
“Plus we’re seeing Comedy Central launching successful digital offerings in multiple markets. Both the US and UK have successful, high traffic sites.”
Already Bates is managing a Comedy Central TV channel in New Zealand, with the channel carried by Sky. This experience with the brand has proven invaluable to his Sydney-based team who have already developed assets that can be used for the Australian launch.
The local launch has already seen one commission from Melbourne comedy group Aunty Donna. This is just the first of the commissions expected to be made. Right now Bates and his team are expecting to see between six and ten short-form commissions in the first twelve months. Partnerships with established local comedy venues and platforms are also on the cards.
Within Comedy Central, short-form content is increasingly being shared between its international operations. “Certainly it’s something we’ll be pushing on behalf of our comedians here to give them the opportunity to be spotted for long form. Right now there’s nothing formal, but I anticipate that’s the way we intend to work.”
Being seen on the Comedy Central site internationally is a significant opportunity for local comic performers. Bates advised that he will work with his team in encouraging international Comedy Central sites to carry Australian commissions as long as the signed rights with performers permit it. However, he also acknowledged that they will be seeking those rights with every commission.
With a number of comedy websites competing for an audience, such as the SBS Backburner site, Comedy Central has launched into a busy market. Bates is not deterred, seeing the Comedy Central video content from established performers like Amy Schumer and Key & Peele as a key differentiator. “What we have seen is a really strong appetite from Australians to access our content online from different places, often our own sites, but also our overseas versions, where a lot of the video content that audiences are looking for is geoblocked,” Bates said.
He continued, “We’re on our path and focused on our strengths and how we deliver that to Australians with a twist and an Australian voice. The more multiple media brands can do to support local comedy, the better it is for us.”