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Published on October 16th, 2011 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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Canadian Comedy Awards: Web Panel

“Good morning.”

At 1:00 p.m., this was panel moderator Simon Fraser’s choice of words to welcome the first of three panel audiences.

Indeed, the comedy industry was a little slow to fill into the room at the Delta Chelsea. Maybe it was the late-night partying the previous night. Ok, who are we kidding – it was definitely the late-night partying the previous night. But it wasn’t long before every chair was occupied by bleary-eyed souls looking to soak up some knowledge.

The Web Comedy panelists: Lindsay Ames (“That Thing That Happened”), Danielle Barker (“Starvival”), Mark DeAngelis (“Axe Lords”) and Mike Fly (“Comedy Bar”).

Here are the highlights from the 90 minute discussion of analytics, geoblocking, and unions:

Mike indicated they’re in talks with BiteTV about a possible second season of Comedy Bar, after being commissioned by them to do the 50-episode first season.

“By ‘commissioned’ I mean ‘they gave us very little money to do anything’,” he clarified.

Lindsay: “In the States there’s a lot more people to go to [to pitch web series to].”

Lindsay: “Thank god for Value Village and their sales, because we were able to outfit like 15 of us for $200.”

Danielle, currently on a six month contract with Buck Productions to try to sell Starvival for tv: “I would love to bring the show to LA and find a team of people and continue doing it on the web. But is there enough money on the web?… I don’t really feel like anyone’s figured it out yet.”

Mark initially thought Axe Lords – based on an actual axe-throwing league – might work as a documentary. When he went and checked out the location, he decided it would make a good setting for a web series.

“They’ve since moved indoors. They were getting some heat from the cops and stuff,” he said.Mark: “You really have to think for the web. How can you create stuff in a single location? If it’s a single location, can it afford you 2 or 3 different looks?”

Mark’s new series is Bill & Sons Towing, starring the Imponderables. They received IPF funding for it, 1 of 15 web series to do so.

Marketing:

Mike: “It has to be niche…. They’re there because they want to be specifically spoken to.”

Mike noted that Bitetv didn’t care about online numbers for Comedy Bar. They wanted it to do well on tv.

“Marketing to comics or people who work within the comedy scene was sort of our target. The difficulty is figuring out how to market to that audience,” he said.

Danielle: “When you’re marketing your own product, it’s awkward…. But at the same time, I know from my experience that that’s everything.”

Mark suggested setting aside a minimum of 25% of the budget for marketing. “The web is so cluttered right now. If you partner with someone who’s at Ryerson or at Humber who’s in that social media world, give them an honourarium and let them run with it. It’s almost a full-time job.”

Collaboration:

Mike: Collaboration only helps. “When you collaborate with somebody, you gain access to that network.”

Lindsay: Her series has a guest star every episode, so they’re able to tap into those people’s fanbases. Steve Agee is doing one, a script is out to Gary Sinese (“god willing”).

Danielle: “When you collaborate with people, it gets a little messy because you have to start splitting your rights.”

Mark: “You have to approach collaboration knowing how much you want to give up. The bigger the player, the more they want.”

Sponsorship:

Mike: On the web you can have precise analytics. “I literally know you’re this person, you’re logged in here, you came from here…. “

Mike & Lindsay – targeted advertising online is still being refined. Will improve as methods of targeting get more specific.

Mark: The advertising challenge is with independent series. “You walk into a beer company and say “give us money”, but they still look at it like a little sandbox.”

Collectively, the message from the panelists was that marketing departments have walls around them. It’s best to talk to publicity departments.

Accessibility:

Mark: As far as where content is made available, “you have to carpet bomb”. Example: CBC having their shows do web videos, but they only live on the CBC site.

Mike: “You will have the ability to subscribe to stuff an have them show up on your tv in the resolution that you want. We’re in a transition period right now.”

Mike: Pure Pwnage got millions of views before even getting on Youtube, by targeting gamers on sites ljke 4chan and Reddit. They leveraged it into a series on Showcase. “Showcase geoblocked it outside of Canada, and it was cancelled after its first season. Regionalism doesn’t work anymore.”

Mike: “Picnicface is famous on the internet, and Powerthirst is a meme that they still make money off of. They’re out there and they’re amazing. But the audience that’s into that in Canada is so small, and it works against them.”

Unions:

Lindsay: “I was taught at Ryerson that you ave to create your own future…. You should never have a union impede you doing what you need to do.”

Mark: “We did go through ACTRA [for Axe Lords] because our three main leads were all ACTRA. But the advantage we have is that we knew these guys as friends,” so small concessions could be made without running into union problems.

Lindsay: I do think there are ways around it. I think you can get artist waivers.

Mike cited the ACTRA “member-initiated project”, a waiver for members who produce, write and star in their own project.

Lindsay, speaking of a video shot in L.A.: “We came up with an idea on Friday and shot it Sunday. You’d never be able to go through the unions and get that done.”

Mike: There’s not enough money to do this legitimately according to ACTRA. It’s not worth their time to process the paperwork for a low-budget web video, and if they officially make concessions, “producers will exploit it”.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



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