Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Serious Business? CollegeHumor Tries Selling Web Video.

Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld are Web stars. The twentysomethings draw an audience of 500,000 people, twice a week, for their three-minute “Jake and Amir” shows on CollegeHumor.com.

But those fans watch Hurwitz and Blumenfeld’s buddy/frenemy comedy clips for free. What would happen if they had to pay?

We’ll find out this afternoon, when the duo rolls out “Jake and Amir: Fired,” a 30-minute special. CollegeHumor will sell streams of the show on its site and via Facebook for $2.99 a pop, and DVDs for $13 apiece.

It’s the first time IAC’s comedy site — which has carved out a nice niche for itself in the low-budget Web originals business — has tried selling anything beyond T-shirts to its audience.

And it’s very much a test. CollegeHumor co-founder Ricky Van Veen isn’t convinced that it will turn a profit, but he’s okay with that. “If this is a loss leader for us, but we learn a lot about paid content, how it works, then it’s worthwhile,” he says.

Van Veen puts the budget for the special at “low five figures.” That’s a sum which would barely register on a Hollywood expense account, but it’s 10 times more than an average “Jake and Amir” episode. The extra money paid for more crew members and editors, etc., as well as the cost of taking a camera crew out of IAC’s offices and onto bona fide locations.

CollegeHumor CEO Paul Greenberg figures the company will need to sell a combination of about 15,000 DVDs and digital streams to break even on the project. And even though that’s a fraction of the duo’s regular audience, Van Veen isn’t convinced they’ll get that.

And the video itself — filmed and edited this summer while Hurwitz and Blumenfeld continued to put out their normal episodes — is still a work in progress. Original plans called for CollegeHumor to sell streams of the show on Apple’s iTunes and DVDs via Amazon, but technical issues have held that up for now.

So how do you get viewers who have been conditioned to watching stuff for free to pull out a credit card or tap their Facebook Credits fund?

Van Veen isn’t sure, and that’s the point of the experiment. “Jake and Amir” has built up a loyal fan base over its four-year run, and Van Veen figures that’s the first part of the equation.

“I think you could only charge money on the Internet if you have people who are rabid — a fan base that’s very invested in the product,” he says. “You already have to have an established property.” If this works, CollegeHumor will try repeating it with other Web video shows, Van Veen says.

Meanwhile Hurwitz and Blumenfeld are intrigued by the idea of selling stuff directly to fans, because it allows them to try more ambitious material without having to worry about appealing to advertisers.

Even if it does work, they don’t see themselves sticking around on the Web forever: Both want to move up to TV and movies. Blumenfeld has already appeared in an (excellent) episode of Louis C.K.’s “Louie”; Hurwitz has moved from New York to Los Angeles to try to land some writing work. “Internet video is cool, but anyone can make an Internet video,” Blumenfeld says.

But not everyone can sell it. Here’s an interview I shot with the pair last month, followed by a trailer for their new show, which should be available later today:


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