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Entertainment and Tech Summit Explores Comedy Renaissance

For those looking to get an easy handle on how thoroughly the digital revolution has reshaped the entertainment landscape, look no further than actor/comedian David Spade’s new Comedy Central talk show “Lights Out With David Spade,” which was inspired by a series of Instagram posts.

“I’d walk around and try to do jokes instead of just here’s my food, here’s my dog, and it sort of started talk,” says Spade, who begins each episode of the talker with a video selfie. “I had network executives DM’ing me, saying, ‘This is different. Could you spin this into half hour?’ And that got me thinking, and then it started meetings and started pilots.”

Spade will be joining Kevin Nealon, Hannah Hart and Pete Holmes on the “Comedy Renaissance in the Digital Age” panel at Variety’s Entertainment & Technology L.A. Summit Sept. 5. They are just a few of the 50 leading creatives and execs appearing at the event to discuss, debate and explain targeted audience engagement, live over-the-top programming and other hot button topics. “Lion King” director Jon Favreau, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Tony Vinciquerra, Paramount TV’s Nicole Clemens and Spotify’s Courtney Holt are among the other notables that will share their insight at the event.

Nealon had an experience similar to Spade’s with his YouTube talk show “Hiking With Kevin,” which began when he spontaneously decided to record an out-of-breath interview with his friend, actor Matthew Modine, on his phone as they walked a canyon trail in the Pacific Palisades. Unlike Spade, he produces the resulting show all by himself and, at this point, there’s little in the way of monetary rewards, just the satisfaction of a job well done.

“It cost nothing, just time scheduling people and getting there and doing it,” says Nealon. “I edit the final product, too, and that takes a long time. It would be great to have sponsorship, but it’s really a passion for me.”

Nealon does get a piece of the ad revenue generated by his YouTube channel, but it’s chump change compared to a typical Hollywood paycheck. And these days it’s harder for up-and-coming talent to build sustainable careers on the platform in the wake of rule changes that demonetize less-popular channels and risqué content.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to Hart, an eight-year YouTube veteran who parlayed her popular online series “My Drunk Kitchen” into acting roles (“Camp Takota,” “Dirty 30”) and a career as an author (her latest book “My Drunk Kitchen Holidays!” is due in October).

“I feel really good that it’s a less-lucrative space because it means there’s less pressure and you get to just explore,” says Hart. “It makes it less readily accessible to people who want to follow the same formula, just trying to get views on YouTube.”

The other good news for creators is the ever-growing array of new digital outlets for content, from SVOD services to ad-monetizable social video platforms such as Facebook Watch.

“With Watch, we’re trying to create a destination video service,” explains Ricky Van Veen, Facebook’s global head of creative strategy, who will appear with Crypt TV co-founder and CEO Jack Davis. “That’s where the longer-form content works. Once you have people there, the old lessons from 10 years ago about how people will only watch short videos on the internet are no longer true.”

One of the big appeals of digital platforms for execs and, to a lesser degree, creatives, is the ability to use the wealth of data they generate to shape and sell
the content.

“You learn where audiences really are into content and where they’re dropping off,” says Davis, whose 14-episode Crypt TV thriller “The Birch” premieres on Facebook Watch on Oct. 11. “But you always need the components of great storytelling.”

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