The misconception that comedy content has a limited audience has been successfully debunked by Netflix and other platforms, as they bring stand-ups front and center in pop culture.
New comedy distribution context
With the advent of streaming services like Netflix, comedy stand-up specials and distribution have become more accessible to millions of subscribers across all demographics. Netflix executives stated they used data and algorithms to decide which comic to hire and the kind of content that would appeal to their audiences. Currently, Netflix offers a variety of comedies for a weekly release. Additionally, the streaming service emphasized that it does not rely on traditional audience segmentation to determine which content would be popular. Instead, they look at sentiment analysis (whether a show is feel-good, sad, or uplifting) instead of focusing on genre, director, or casting.
Netflix’s gamble in new comedy distribution has paid off. Aside from offering hour-long specials, the company also has 30- and 15-minute clips that audiences can consume as bite-sized breaks. It is also actively building its pool of international comics and offers shows in seven different languages. However, Netflix’s comedy service is not without controversy. In 2018, some female African-American comics accused the network of pay inequality. Netflix executives countered that they also use data and audience analysis to determine salaries and are actively increasing content from Black female comedians.
Other platforms have observed Netflix’s success and follow the same distribution strategy. An example is Dry Bar Comedy, a YouTube channel with 1.4 million subscribers (2022); the channel features full comedy specials from North America. People can view its 250 stand-up comedy specials library on YouTube, Dry Bar’s website, and partnerships with Amazon Prime Video and production firm Comedy Dynamics. Dry Bar has adopted a strategy to produce “clean,” family-friendly comedy from diverse comics that everyone can watch.
Implications for new comedy distribution
Wider implications for new comedy distribution may include:
- A wider variety of comics (international talent) being introduced to streaming services through social media; for instance, TikTok comedians, Twitch comedians, etc.
- Cable TV establishing exclusive partnerships with social media platforms and channels to host comedy content.
- Audiences becoming increasingly exposed to comedians and styles of comedy from foreign countries and regions.
- More comics becoming celebrities, commanding increasingly high salaries and long-term contracts similar to a series’ seasons.
- Concerns over copyright and trademark matters as comedians enter negotiations with streaming services for weekly specials.
Questions to comment on
- How do you think comedians can protect their content through multiple distributors?
- How do you think comedy distribution would become even more democratized over the next three years?