Much more than a niche basic cable network, Comedy Central is now one of America's strongest cultural brands and an epicenter of smart entertainment. Fast Company senior writer Danielle Sacks talked to Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless and president of content development Kent Alterman—who both worked at the network during its key breakout period in the late '90s—about the cross-platform strategy to engage their 18-34 year-old audience, and the opportunities and challenges in monetizing digital success.
"Good comedy has always been very truthful and relatable," said Alterman. "Comedy serves a purpose in society that is very human and relatable when it's good—telling some truth, exposing some hypocrisy. And comedy is very sharable, so as the internet exploded, comedy took on a significance in a way that maybe music did in a previous generation."
At the same time, popularity online doesn't necessarily translate to money or broadcast success. Alterman cited comedy duo Key & Peele, whose ratings are strong, but don't reflect the duo's insane popularity. "Their sketches have been viewed online 750 million times, but there's no way to fully monetize that." And in the one day since the network released the second season trailer for Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson's Broad City, it has been viewed 500,000 times. "We could have put out a whole episode online, but that would have cannibalized our TV monetization," said Ganeless.
Alterman and Ganeless also discussed serving their core viewers while also bringing in a broader audience, and the opportunities that come with a huge loss like the end of The Colbert Report, which will be replaced by Larry Wilmore's Minority Report. "Change can be painful but also exciting," said Alterman "As big as the loss of Colbert is, I'm excited about the opportunity of what we can do with that space."