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Funny Business: Q+A w Paul Greenberg, CEO of CollegeHumor

06/11/13

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: So, a rabbi, priest and the content marketer walk into a bar.  The bartender asks, “well gents, what’ll it be?” The rabbi glances around the crowded room lamenting, “I see you are serving some of my tribe here, would you mind sending them to temple on Friday night?”  The priest, echoing the thoughts of the rabbi, says “yes and if you would send my flock over on Sunday that would be most kind.”  The content marketer, ignoring his companions’ discretion, jumps onto the bar and shouts at the top of lungs, “Drinks on me everyone, our ‘Sobriety Rules’ video just went viral!”

Paul Greenberg stillNow that we’ve established there are no jobs for me in comedy, let me introduce you to a veritable lion of laughter, Paul Greenberg, the CEO of CollegeHumor Media (owned by IAC). Paul and I had a lengthy chat a couple of months back about the inner workings at CollegeHumor, part of which is transcribed below.  I think you will agree after reading this that Paul has one of the best jobs around, working with funny people to make other people laugh AND making money doing it.  Look closer and you’ll also see how I was able to glean a few of the 18 Things College Humor Can Teach You About Content Marketing for an upcoming FastCompany.com post.

Drew: When did you join CollegeHumor and how its been going since then?
Sure, I joined two and a half years ago.  I was brought in to help grow the company and we have grown 40 percent year over year in traffic over the past two years.  We’ve also grown our revenue and we’ve grown 40% in traffic, we are now the eighth largest YouTube channel with over 4.5 million subscribers; we have 15 million monthly unique visitors which again is up, way up over from where we were a couple of years ago; we do a 100 million video streams per month.

Drew: So you’re a lot more than a website?
Yes, look at us as a multiplatform, multimedia studio.  We’re not a website.  We create enormous amount of content and we publish it on our O&O website, we publish it on YouTube, we publish it to game consoles, we publish it to connected TVs and now we are starting to create traditional long-form television shows and are very close to several deals with major cable networks to do that.  We are also going into lots of other areas of business like publishing three books, numerous DVDs and have shot a full-length movie called Coffee Town that will be released in July (see trailer here).

Drew: Tell me about the video production process.
We do about 50 videos per month and it’s all created in-house.  We have a production team here in New York a team in LA. It is all original content; we have our own writers, we have our own directors, we have our own producers and editors and it’s all created under the banner of CollegeHumor.

Drew: Do have some kind of schedule for your series like Jake and Amir?
Yes. Jake and Amir comes out every Tuesday like clockwork and Hardly Working comes out every Friday.  Some of the other series we do more in seasons.  Very Mary Kate, for example, will have a run of 15 straight weeks with an episode and then it’ll take a break.  It really depends on the production schedule and the actors, the writers, and how we can work around their schedules. But we try to be consistent and let people know when things are coming out — that’s the best way to build an audience.

Drew:  I happened to watch an episode of Very Mary Kate (Drinking Party) and I have to ask, has there been any pushback from the real Mary Kate?
You know I can’t speak for her, from what I understand, completely anecdotally she is a fan and she thinks it’s very funny.

Drew:  How do the parody movie trailers fit in?
There are two kinds of videos we do; one are series, which we just talked about and one are just one-off sketches.  And a movie trailer for us is like a sketch.  It is just like a Saturday Night Live skit that we do and if it hits, we’ll do more and if it doesn’t hit, we won’t do more.  So for example, the Dora trailer was an enormous hit — not only was it a hit in the sense of people who said we want to see more of this kind of thing but we also wished this were a real movie. So we made a 12-minute movie which is out in three installments and that was responding to the community.

Drew:  How do know when to stop doing sequels to a sketch?
We now have three of the Startup Guys but that was enough. We didn’t want to beat the joke to death, So it really depends on the kind of life that a sketch will get, we have a series we call The Six which is The Six girlfriends you’ll meet when you are back home, The Six dads that you could have — we started off with The Six dads and that did really well so we thought, all right there’s something here and now we have a bunch of Sixes.

Drew:  When you say “really well,” what does that mean in terms of traffic?
Once it starts to get to the half a million level, we start to really pay attention.  And we don’t just look at views, we look at Facebook likes, we look at shares on Twitter and shares on Tumbler, we are a very social media oriented company.  We have a lot of data and we spend a lot of time analyzing data, loking at the ratio between likes and views, if this getting shared a lot but not watched a lot?  Do we need to give it a little push somewhere? Is it getting watched a lot on our site but not shared very much?  Is there something that doesn’t make it go viral? And we are very good at making content that goes viral and gets shared and so we are always sort of tracking those metrics about social media.

Drew:  So you’ll know pretty early whether it is going to be successful, and if you think you see those early signs do you then do more to fuel the fire?
Yes, absolutely.  We look at it and we say all right, we got to keep this on our homepage, or we need to make sure we post it again to Facebook or something like that.  Creatively we have something called The SIV, which is our secret formula for viral videos and so it needs to make sure that certain videos have certain aspects about them and we keep that very tightly protected, as you might imagine, but it is the sort of the secret sauce of how we create viral videos and we have a team that has honed that art.  You know, not everything hits, obviously but I’d say our track record on balance is pretty good and we are very happy with how it is doing and the team is great at it.

Drew:  Is there a dedicated team to social media?
We have one person who is a social media manager; all she does is spend her time on social networks.  She’s completely in the loop in terms of what’s happening and what is coming up in terms of our schedule, so she’s always out there pushing it to our PR partners. We have another person in our marketing group who pushes stuff to other partners, so we have a well-oiled machine that is constantly making sure that we’re getting our tentacles out everywhere.

Drew: How does Hardly Working fit in?
Hardly Working is a sort of playground for us.  That’s where we put the weird ideas into motion, the ones that we want to experiment with, so we are less concerned about how that does. It is totally bizarre and fun and interesting and it gives us a safe place where we are not expecting huge amount of traffic. We do get some that blow up like Startup Guys [which started as a Hardly Working sketch.]  Not everything starts there, but it is one place that things get started.

Drew:  So it really is all about sort of rapid experimentation?
Exactly. You can’t be afraid to fail, you have to be willing to put yourself out there every day with something new, and they’re not all going to be gems but you get enough hits so that people start to realize wow, these guys have something interesting going on and I’ll go along with them when something is not as great, but I know when I come back there’s going to something for me.

Drew:  If we look at, I’m just focusing on the video, we talked about 50 a month, how many of those have to be hits for that month to be a good month?
Two or three big hits, I would say.  Which is not as easy as it sounds!

Drew:  We’ve been noticing this with business related videos that length matters a lot.  What’s ideal for you?
Absolutely, we try to keep it under 2 or 2½  minutes. Anything longer and people really just glaze.

Drew:  Are you guys into Vine?  Must be tough to do any fun in six seconds?
We’ve done a lot of Vines actually and they are fun experiments. We did a very funny thing for the Oscars–we recreated every Best Picture nominated movie as a Vine.

Drew:  Do you ever say to yourself, “I can believe I have this job, this is so great?”
Yeah, it’s awesome.  I love creating content and creating products that affect people’s lives in a positive way.  That’s one of the things that’s always driven me from a business perspective.

Footnote: Paul also appears in some Hardly Working videos as himself. Here’s one of them.

 

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Copyright © 2013 - Drew Neisser