Channel Profile: Comedy Central


PREMIUM: David Bernath, the executive VP of program strategy and multiplatform programming at Comedy Central, talks to TV USA about managing windows, off-net acquisitions and more.


WS: How are you managing the linear and online windows for your flagship shows?
BERNATH: We have some restrictions as to what we can put online. Obviously we’re all still waiting for the Nielsen measurement and the money to follow online. The Daily Show and Colbert are on our site every day and they’re on Hulu. Those are topical shows that don’t really have a shelf life, so you’re not looking to protect repeats or encores or a library in terms of ratings. We primarily look at the web as a promotional space. We’ll put up a premiere episode and stream it the week following the [launch] so that anybody can go check it out, but we don’t do it throughout the whole season. Where we have definitely seen strong traffic and business is on the subscription-video-on-demand side: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon. We’ve done big deals and had a lot of content on those services. We look at those as ancillary revenue [opportunities] but also as places to reach our fans in a new way. For example, Workaholics, which is a new scripted series that has had two runs of ten episodes and is about to come back in June, we just put the first season up on Netflix in January and the viewership has been unbelievable. We’re hoping we’ve expanded the fan base by putting it on that platform. Hopefully that will drive back to linear. Ultimately that’s the balance we’re trying to strike. We love the ancillary revenue, but at the same time we’re all trying to figure out how it is cannibalizing, or not, the channel.
WS: Tell us about your acquisitions strategy.
BERNATH: We acquire three kinds of programming. One is movies—theatrical comedies—and that’s everything from fairly recent films to classic library titles like a Beverly Hills Cop. That fills out a chunk of our schedule. Occasionally we buy off-net series, like 30 Rock, Community, Scrubs, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. We picked up Futurama, which was on FOX and then Adult Swim, and we brought it back for new episodes. The last [category we acquire] is stand-up specials. We are the leading brand when it comes to stand up. We make a lot but we also license a lot. Those are small deals, usually with comedians and their representation.
WS: How about international acquisitions?
BERNATH: Absolutely Fabulous was a staple on Comedy Central many moons ago, and The League of Gentlemen, but it’s been more than ten years since we’ve [acquired a show from outside of the U.S.]
WS: What about formats that could be adapted for Comedy Central?
BERNATH: We have development people in New York and Los Angeles. The days of some executive flying to MIPTV and coming back and saying, I saw this really funny [British] comedy, are over. They’re over because as soon as a show gets commissioned in the U.K., that production company, who probably even has an office in Los Angeles, is already shopping it around and showing people the pilot. It used to be that the buyers like myself would come back with fresh intel. Now, the development execs at American networks are being actively pitched by companies that have "the hot comedies" in other places. Something like Wilfred, Summer Heights High—they’re coming through the door on the development side, versus the acquisitions people bringing them to the table.
WS: Can you tell us how you schedule your weekdays?
BERNATH: For us, the sweet spot, the prime for our viewers, is really 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. We premiere our prime-time shows in the 10 o’clock hour. The Daily Show and Colbert anchor the 11 o’clock hour. If you look at our ratings, especially among our target of young guys, they rise up at that 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock hour and continue till 1 or 2 in the morning. That’s where our focus is, on that part of the schedule. Everything else is secondary. We don’t actively program, promote or buy shows for daytime. We don’t have an investment strategy for other dayparts—[where we air] repeats of a lot of shows and library movies. The advertising revenue we make from those other dayparts is quite a bit less.
One of the things we’re trying to do is get more momentum and more episodes of new shows on sooner. Increasingly, we don’t feel like you can do a season and come back a year later. You can maybe come back a year later once you’ve reached a certain level of awareness and fan interest. But coming out of the gate, you need to come back on sooner. We’ve made a very strong effort. Workaholics came back quickly. Key and Peele is coming back this fall. Tosh.0, our highest-rated show right now, came back very quickly.