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Political spoof a boon for JibJab business

Fans swarm the site in what has become a "really good advertising campaign" for the company, its creators say.

Gregg Spiridellis is pretty happy that his Web site isn't working flawlessly this morning.

The co-founder of Flash filmmaker JibJab knows the slowed performance of his company's home page is coming from a spike in traffic after a news segment on his latest online political spoof aired on NBC's "Today Show." Spiridellis doesn't have any traffic figures for downloads of "Good to be in DC!," which debuted Thursday night on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." He turned off the site's tracking tools to help maximize its overall performance.

"I can't get into the site, so that means it's getting passed around, and that's the best indicator we have of how people are responding to the film," Spiridellis said Friday during a telephone interview.

JibJab launched "This Land," its first Flash animation parody of the 2004 presidential campaign, in June. An unexpected wave of traffic followed, forcing the company to revert to a plain HTML front page that instructed Web surfers to come back later. The filmmaker believes that he's better prepared this time around. Indeed, a few moments after the "Today Show" piece, the site appeared to be working somewhat better.

JibJab's seemingly overnight catapult to Internet stardom underscores the Web's ability to reward creative professionals who are able to craft something that appeals to a wide audience. In this year of a hotly contended presidential race, Spiridellis has turned a side project that he and his brother Evan launched for their own entertainment into a catalyst for his company's business.

NBC helped sponsor "Good to be in DC!," a Flash film of just more than a minute that features cartoon versions of the presidential candidates and a number of other publicly politicized individuals, in a musical number set to the classic American folk song "Dixie." The parody includes, among other bawdy jokes, vice presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards in a bikini brief and Vice President Dick Cheney flipping the bird.

The filmmaker said he was surprised by all the positive feedback on "DC" thus far, based on the fact that the movie contains racier jokes than "This Land," including a fair amount of sexual innuendo. He said the piece was created with a "late night" TV audience in mind.

Drumming up business
For Santa Monica, Calif.-based JibJab, which makes its money by creating Flash media for customers in the advertising and entertainment industries, the film is the best form of marketing it could imagine.

"When Jay Leno aired 'This Land' and asked us to create something new for the show, it gave us the kind of big opportunity we couldn't say no to, so we just did it," Spiridellis said. "In terms of revenue, I'm expecting this to have the impact on our business that you might associate with a really good advertising campaign; essentially we became our own client."

"This Land" generated more than 50 million individual viewings online and outranked traffic to the two presidential candidates' own Web sites for the month of June, according to Web traffic analysts ComScore Networks. The company also successfully defended a copyright battle over its use of folk singer Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" in the earlier film.

Beyond the advertising advantages, JibJab hopes to profit from the success of its parodies by selling downloads of the movies, a DVD of both films and memorabilia such as T-shirts related to the animations.

Earlier this year, the company signed an exclusive marketing agreement for any election-related content it creates with Shockwave media specialists AtomFilms, which is hosting the two movies on its own site. The two companies are sharing revenue driven by ads on both of their sites. AtomFilms also provides the streaming-media software used to serve up the films online.

Spiridellis did not divulge exactly how many downloads of the films JibJab has sold for $2.99, but he said that a surprising number of people have paid to save the content for their own use.

"Downloads are performing really well for us," the filmmaker said. "People seem to like to download the actual file to their disk, even though they could stream it online; they've been telling us that they like the convenience of owning it on the desktop."

While Spiridellis and his brother worked hard to create "DC" in less than five weeks, the chance to gain TV exposure was worth it, he said. By Friday morning, Spiridellis had already scheduled appearances on ABC, CNBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

"The goal this time around is to put enough money in the bank to fund our next project," he said. "But we just hope people enjoy it and go out to vote in November."