CollegeHumor subscription service wants to make online comedy R-rated

The ad-free service, called Dropout, also wants $4 a month to start.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read

CollegeHumor is launching a subscription video service, Dropout. 


CollegeHumor, the online comedy source launched nearly 20 years ago, is the latest outlet taking a stab at creating its own mini, niche Netflix: a subscription service called Dropout that targets R-rated comedy nerds. It launched in beta mode Wednesday. 

"We're pushing the boundary -- not with every show, because not every show creatively demands it, but with many," CollegeHumor CEO Rich Cusick said in an interview earlier this month. "On a deeper level, we're exploring ideas for shows that ...would never be green-lit by a traditional network."

Niche subscription video is a field littered with casualties. In the last three years, Netflix's ascent to now 125 million subscribers inspired other online video companies to try subscriptions for their niche audiences, with many failing to last long. 

Seeso -- the $4-a-month comedy video subscription service backed by NBCUniversal -- shut down after a year and a half, which is about as long as Comic-Con HQ survived. Fullscreen almost made it to the two-year mark but fell short by three months. 

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Cusick said Dropout, which isn't "trying to be Netflix," plans to avoid the pitfalls that doomed other niche video subscriptions. The first step is not to "just throw out some great content and hope that people will come," he said. The company is betting on deep fan allegiance, mobile-first design, interactivity and giving the audience multiple entry points beyond just the subscription. 

CollegeHumor has more than 10 million monthly active visitors. 

Dropout will cost $4 a month for the first three months while in beta. After that, month-by-month memberships will cost $6. You can stay at a $4 rate by paying a lump sum $48 for an annual subscription, or you can split the difference with $30 six-month subscription that breaks down to a $5 monthly rate. 

Like most paid video services, Dropout doesn't have advertising. Removing ads meets a consumer expectation that paid video services be ad-free, but executives said both the CollegeHumor talent and audience are interested in comedy that doesn't necessarily abide by advertising-friendly guidelines. 

"If you look at what the internet used to be 10 years ago, it was a haven for experimentation," Cusick said. "What has happened, as YouTube and Facebook have consumed all of content, is that they dictate the terms under which content is seen." 

Dropout is initially available on the web and was designed for mobile devices. The company plans dedicated apps for Android and Apple devices later this year, it said in a release.  The company plans to eventually make Dropout available worldwide --- Canada, Australia and New Zealand are expected to roll out soon after its US launch, with other territories like UK and India to follow. Pricing hasn't been determined outside the US. 

It plans to launch members-only community features during the three-month beta that are powered by Discord, the gaming chat service designed for lag-free chat during multiplayer video games. The community sections will allow fans to connect with each other as well as talent and creators, according to the company. 

Beyond video, Dropout will provide digital comics and "chat stories," tales that play out through text messages between two or more characters. (If you don't know about this type of frenzy, you're probably old enough to rent a car.) 

The Dropout name "speaks for itself," Cusick said. "It's not a reference to college. It's a sense that, look, our user base is not getting what they want, either from us in the channels we distribute or traditional TV."

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