Turner fills laughs fest void

Pay cabler involved in Chicago, Vegas events

The U.S. comedy festival business took a hit last year when its principal benefactor, Chris Albrecht, ankled HBO.

The HBO-sponsored U.S. Comedy Arts Festival soon went bye-bye, and the pay cabler also pulled its foundational support for Las Vegas’ more consumer-focused Comedy Festival.

Quickly, however, TBS, led by Turner Entertainment Networks prexy Steve Koonin, has filled the laughs fest void.

This week, Koonin and numerous Turner officials will be in Montreal, as the ongoing Just for Laughs festival spins off a concurrent biz-to-biz confab, Just Comedy. In addition to keynoting that event July 17, Koonin and his team will discuss plans with Just for Laughs officials to produce a comedy fest in Chicago next June.

Additionally, Turner has partnered with AEG Live to produce Vegas’ Comedy Festival in November, picking up the slack for the departed HBO.

“These are multimillion-dollar ventures,” Koonin concedes. “But all the different aspects add up to a pretty nice business model.”

Scouting standup talent for TBS’ burgeoning “Very Funny”-branded stable of original comedies — which includes series “The Bill Engvall Show,” “My Boys” and “10 Items or Less” — is one reason for Turner’s support.

Producing specials is another: TBS will tape shows featuring Ellen DeGeneres at both upcoming events in Las Vegas and Chicago.

“It also gives us an incredible platform for advertisers, who now want more than just 30-second spots,” says Koonin, noting numerous integration possibilities at such live events.

Given Albrecht’s departure from the fest scene, Just for Laughs topper Bruce Hills terms’ Koonin’s ascension as “incredibly important.”

“He has great vision, and he gets it that live events are a fantastic compliment to Turner’s TV strategy,” Hills says.

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