Today comedy network My Damn Channel announced a big effort to buy up "hundreds" of comedy shows over the next year. The company's effort may make it, if not the first, potentially the biggest comedy network on YouTube, even as such "networks" have faced slew of criticism over the past few months. Still the announcement is sure to excite creators of independent web series.
"We've always worked with top talent and breaking talent. We always will," CEO Rob Barnett said in an interview.
My Damn Channel is organizing this new effort under the My Damn Channel Comedy Network, and it has brought on Eric Mortensen as director of programming and acquisitions to manage it. Web series creators will recognize Mortensen from his time at Blip, a site respected for revenue-sharing and cultivating a slew of beloved independent series, including dramas like "Anyone But Me" (WGA award-winner) and "Downsized" (WGA-nominated).
The Network says it's looking for "smart, adult comedy in many shapes and sizes," Barnett said, including "LIVE, scripted, improv, animated, interactive, inventive, and especially anything where celebrity judges belittle people who sing and dance."
My Damn Channel has been releasing comedy series since 2007. The network is best known as the place for established artists like David Wain ("Wainy Days") and Harry Shearer. But it's made a name with less-well known talent, such as Illeana Douglas' IKEA-branded hit "Easy to Assemble," vlogger Grace Helbig's Daily Grace channel, and Beth Hoyt, who hosts the network's live show, part of YouTube's $100+ million original content initiative.
When asked if the Network can compete with premium web TV, Mortensen said high production budgets don't guarantee better quality or bigger audiences online.
"My Damn Channel isn’t going to turn down a brilliant, hilarious project simply because it doesn't look just like TV," he said. "That's a surefire way to miss out on the Next Big Thing. And that's what we're all about."
Networks have been all the rage on YouTube. There are about a dozen active ones, lead by Machinima.com and Maker Studios, a number that doesn't include smaller competitors like Big Frame and Fullscreen. So far none of these networks have focused on acquiring comedy series, focusing mostly on vloggers, musicians, instructional or news-driven hosts.
YouTube networks sign up content creators and help them market their shows. Executives say they help creators with a staff to help them sell ads, package sponsorship deals and leverage other partners on the network to drive traffic. They're like leaner cable channels, making it easier to productions to find the right niche audience and financing.
Machinima.com, for example, signed up thousands of indie producers of machinima (video from video games), which helped it grow to the leading network on YouTube. Machinima has since raised tens of millions from investors like Google itself. Like when HBO started investing in quality programs like "The Sopranos," Machinima now releases some of the priciest shows on YouTube, including "Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn" and TV pilot turned web series "Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome."
But the YouTube networks have been facing increasing scrutiny. Machinima's producers led the charge by exposing the company's stringent contracts, which granted Machinima ownership rights in perpetuity, among other egregious clauses. In a (must-read) feature in LA Weekly this month, the network said it is now limiting contracts to three-year terms.
Maker Studios has seen its share of complaints, most recently in a nasty, public spat with Ray William Johnson, who was for a long time the most-subscribed creator on YouTube (now overtaken by Smosh, which just become the first channel to cross 7 million subscribers). Johnson alleged Maker was trying to take ownership of his channel and a bigger cut of his revenue, among other claims. Maker, co-founded by YouTuber Lisa Donovan, has often compared itself to United Artists, though it secured $36 million from Time Warner last month.
My Damn Channel appears to be responding to the climate, in part by bringing on Mortensen and his creator-friendly pedigree. The company says its contracts are non-exclusive -- meaning partners can upload their videos elsewhere, with other companies -- and limited to one year. This might be because the comedy market online is more competitive: users can always try their luck on Funny Or Die, Break, or a bunch of other sites, or try to get in new channels like Lorne Michaels' Above Average.
"We’ve made sure to take the time to learn what content creators want and don’t want when they chose a network partner. We’re offering comedy creators a no-nonsense, transparent deal that continues to make My Damn Channel one of the best places for talent to be," Barnett said.
The company has a set up a simple website with more information on how to submit your work to the Network: http://www.mydamnchannel.com/Comedy-Network.