What's in the future for Funny or Die?

CEO of the comedy video site says a new deal with HBO is only the beginning for the year-old project.

Funny or Die

Funny or Die, the comedy site co-founded by actor Will Ferrell, rose to fame a year ago with a wildly popular video called "The Landlord." Plans for the site are growing as fast as Ferrell's fro.

On Wednesday, the site snagged an equity investment from HBO . Funny or Die, which already had the backing of Sequoia Capital, also will also produce 10 half-hours of programming for HBO as part of the deal.

The HBO pact is part of a larger plan to turn the site--and the Or Die Network's group of sites--into "premium brands" in their respective fields, CEO Dick Glover said Wednesday.

Glover, who became CEO earlier this year, spoke with CNET News.com about the HBO deal and plans for the site.

How did the HBO deal come about?
It is related in that all of the various participants or whatever at HBO or Funny or Die have had a variety of business dealings over time, including Gary Sanchez Productions (a company operated by Ferrell and Funny or Die co-founder Adam McKay), which is doing a show called East Bound and Down for HBO, a weekly half-hour comedy. So a meeting was set up of a bunch of people including Mark Kvamme from Sequoia, including people representing various folks that are part of our company. The purpose was literally just to brainstorm and talk at the core. What people like was we perceive ourselves as the premium comedy brand. They're clearly the premium television network. The idea is: what could these two things, which have that in common...what more could we do that expands on that.

(It) did not seem to take advantage of our voice and assets to just do a television show--we didn't see where that raised the bar. Let's do a deal where the Funny or Die sensibilities can be brought to television, out of just this short-form area to a long-form area with HBO, and leverage that to potentially other businesses and things. And in order for that to happen, we have to have HBO be a strategic partner.

The exact nature of the programming is still to be determined. First thing we need to do, and we're busy at work, is hire a very high-level creative manager for the whole thing and start to come up with ideas.

Can you talk about the finances?
We don't, but what everybody has said is it is small. We didn't need money but did a second round of financing in December. Cash wasn't the issue. The issue was strategic relationship.

How is traffic to Funny or Die going? I know there was the initial huge rush with "The Landlord" video. How do you keep traffic coming back after that?
We've been averaging 3.2 million unique (visitors per month). We clearly have that huge swell of "The Landlord" and then that audience over several months tapered off not illogically. And the last couple of months, audience has been growing. And the one thing we say is, if your first movie was Star Wars, you're always going to suffer by comparison. If you started at zero and after a year had grown to 3.2 million and continuing a nice growth pattern, you'd be thrilled.

How big is the company now?
All of Or Die Networks, which includes Shred or Die (an action sports video site) Eat Drink or Die, (a community site aimed at foodies) PWN or Die (a gaming site), and we're launching in Brazil next month and another site in the fall, it's 42 people.

How will the content be integrated with the existing site and with HBO.com? User-generated content is a big part of Funny or Die. Will that be part of the new programming?
It starts on the television service--the 10 half-hours, which could morph into 8 40-minute blocks, or back-to-back half-hours five times. The basic metric is 10 30-minute television programs. And those programs will reflect the same kind of inventiveness or voice and tone that is Funny or Die.

Anything that is part of the Web site and part of what we do can be a part of the television. Now again it hasn't happened yet, so I don't know exactly how. But an important part of our Web site is getting all these people to submit content that might be tied in or integrated. Yes, absolutely.

Cross-media distribution with us and HBO is anticipated. Clearly, Funny or Die the Web site and HBO.com are players in all of this.

What's the long-term plan? Do you see yourself as becoming a studio or a production company?
We clearly do see a vision of moving toward the 21st century comedy studio model. We really do look at it as becoming much more than a Web site or just a video content company. We think that model evolves, but we see opportunities. We've already done touring, and we will be doing much more in that area. We see the potential of print. We see the potential in audio. This is the logical next step as we seek to exploit.

The long-term plan is to continue to grow brands from the Internet video content space that can then live as multimedia brands--and if all goes well, that each of those can be a dominant brand in their field. So someday the goal is that Funny or Die is clearly the premium comedy brand, regardless of media.

 

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