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Comedy Central banks on tours

Stand-up concerts yield $40 million for network

Comedy Central will announce this week that it has generated $40 million in ticket sales for a lucrative comedy-tour business that has operated below the radar since the tours kicked off five years ago.

Mitch Fried, senior VP of promotion marketing for Comedy Central, said the tours are part of a whole package the network can offer comedians, including DVDs and CDs of their standup act.

Comedy Central typically ponies up more money to the performers than outside entrepreneurs do, Fried said, because it promotes the concert on its Website, with links to order tickets. On-air promotion is also a given; Comedy Central often ties in the tour to a special or series on the network. DVDs and/or CD can also be thrown into the mix.

According to Fried, these promotional tools are often so effective in selling out auditoriums well in advance that the promoter doesn’t have to spend much on local radio spots, newspaper ads and billboards. Most of these savings go into the performers’ pocket, he said.

Comedy Central has organized 15 tours since the inaugural “The Lighten Up Tour” in 2002. That tour, featuring Jim Breuer, did 43 performances in 33 markets, grossing about $1.5 million. A year later, the tour starring Lewis Black & Dave Attell delivered 59 performances in 50 cities, bringing in $4.5 million.

The biggest grossing tour to date is Carlos Mencia’s 2006 “Punisher Tour,” which harvested $10 million over 100 performances in 63 markets. Fried said it served as cross-promotion for the cabler’s weekly “Mind of Mencia” TV series.

“We’re in the talent-relationship business, and we want to go beyond just the TV screen,” Fried said, “Concerts are a part of that.” But the concerts get the benefit of on-air promos on Comedy Central.

He added that concerts are part of the “added value” that the network can give to advertisers, who’ll ramp up their 30-second-spot buys in order to become sponsors of one or more of the tours. A sponsor gets the benefit of things like an “Acme Widgets Presents” designation in all of the ads, promos and signage.

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