First, YouTube and Facebook have increasingly been cracking down on advertiser-inappropriate content, penalizing CollegeHumor’s edgier material by demonetizing or curtailing it — even some of its political comedy has been penalized by the tech platforms, said chief creative officer Sam Reich. CollegeHumor also was pitching show concepts to TV network execs but getting shot down because of R-rated content, strangeness or otherwise being a turnoff to potential sponsors.
“We’ve been beholden to the advertisers,” Reich said.
Now CollegeHumor has a new plan to make a business out of its advertiser-unfriendly content: going directly to the fans of its particular flavor offbeat comedy. It’s launching Dropout, an ad-free, mixed-media subscription service that will include original series, animation, comics and other content.
“The internet used to be a haven for creative experimentation,” Reich said. “We said, ‘Let’s go uncensored, with a direct-to-consumer service — let people pay for the comedy they love.'”
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CollegeHumor is calling the initial version of Dropout a public beta, available on the web and mobile browsers starting Wednesday (Sept. 26). A full launch, targeted for November, will add iOS and Android apps and additional content.
During the public beta, Dropout will be available for $3.99 per month for the first three months. Once the service officially debuts, it will adopt a tiered pricing model: $47.88 per year ($3.99 per month); $29.94 for a six-month subscription ($4.99 per month); and $5.99 for a month-by-month subscription. More info on Dropout is available at dropout.tv.
Dropout’s slate of longer-form, premium programming will feature fan-favorite CollegeHumor alumni and reboots of popular series in scripted and unscripted shows. The Dropout name implies that CollegeHumor is “dropping out” of conventional distribution channels, said Rich Cusick, CEO of CH Media, the IAC unit that houses CollegeHumor.
“Our users really feel like they’re not getting the content they want on other platforms,” Cusick said.
The lineup on Dropout includes “See Plum Run” (pictured above), featuring the “Precious Plum” characters played by Josh Ruben and Elaine Carroll. In a return of the NSFW “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” sendup, Plum runs for student-body president of her prep school — a parody of Donald Trump’s 2016 U.S. presidential run. Other scripted shows are “Lonely and Horny” season 2 starring Amir Blumenfeld as Ruby Jade, a neurotic, single 30-something who wants to have sex more than anything else in the world and embarks on a quest to find love wherever he can with his dating coach played by Jake Hurwitz. “Troopers” stars CollegeHumor cast members Raphael Chestang and Ally Beardsley in a space saga of “epic incompetence.”
Dropout’s unscripted series include “Dimension 20: Fantasy High,” featuring CollegeHumor’s Brennan Lee Mulligan leading a campaign around a fantastical high school as Dungeon Master; and “Um, Actually” — CollegeHumor’s game show of fandom that began on YouTube — which will bring celebrity guests into the mix with host Mike Trapp.
Beyond the video programming, Dropout will provide mobile-first digital comics including “Dreadlord,” “Cartoon Hell Presents” and “Ladies Book Club.” Subscribers also will be able to access chat-story content, designed to provide a bridge between new episodes of Dropout’s original programming. In addition, the service will include a community component to let fans interact with each other and with CollegeHumor creators and talent. A members-only Dropout channel on Discord, a voice-and-text chat service popular among gamers, will be available shortly after launch.
CollegeHumor will promote the Dropout service with free episodes and other content in front of the paywall.
“What we hope is going direct-to-consumer will let us invest more in content,” Cusick said. If the subscription model takes off, that will “allow us to double down our investment into premium original content, resulting in a bigger, better, badder CollegeHumor across all platforms.”
CH Media’s portfolio now includes the flagship CollegeHumor business, along with Dropout, web-comics and fandom site Dorkly and illustration channel Drawfee. The unit’s management team comprises Cusick, Reich, chief business officer Shane Rahmani, and CFO Natalie Mayslich.
Cusick noted that IAC, the internet holding company run by Barry Diller, has experience running subscription-based business, including Tinder and Angie’s List. That said, the New York-based company also has had some misfires: Under IAC CEO Joey Levin, the company’s video-hosting service Vimeo had been planning to launch a subscription VOD service for independent filmmakers — before abruptly killing the project last year.
Part of what gives CollegeHumor confidence that its subscription model will work is that it has an existing base of more than 20 million followers online, including 13 million YouTube subscribers. That gives it a built-in audience theoretically receptive to signing up for Dropout, instead of trying to create an entirely new brand from scratch (as NBCUniversal’s short-lived Seeso subscription VOD service tried and failed to do).
Overall, Dropout subscribers will have access to about 50 hours of content during the beta period, including the entire CollegeHumor library of original videos. By the end of 2018, the company expects to double that to up to 100 hours, with 250 hours of original comedy content pegged for Dropout by the end of 2019.
CollegeHumor plans to debut a new original title on the Dropout platform every month in 2019, with episodes on a weekly release schedule. “The thread is, you wouldn’t find these shows anywhere else,” Reich said.