Comedy Incites $5M Local Sales Riot


Humor is serious business for Comedy Central and its affiliates. A major case in point: "The Laugh Riots Stand-Up Competition" has amassed nearly $5.1 million in local ad sales in only three major markets.

"This could well be the largest [cable-affiliate] promotion of all time," Comedy vice president of affiliate ad sales Kurt Greves said.

Adlink, the Los Angeles interconnect, generated $4.75 million through Comedy's stand-up comedy contest, up from more than $1 million in its first outing last fall.

Last year's inaugural event stemmed from "a brainstorming session" with Adlink executives, Comedy Central senior vice president of affiliate relations Brad Samuels recalled.

"It was a real home run," said Adlink vice president of marketing and communications Vicki Lins. Its sales total combined both "Laugh Riots" sponsorships and related annual commitments to the interconnect, she clarified.

Lins was unable to break out stand-alone "Riots" buys, she said.

The AT&T Broadband-managed Cable Advertising of Metro Atlanta interconnectand AT&T Broadband in Boston (formerly MediaOne Group Inc.), the competition's other participants, also attracted new advertisers but declined to discuss dollars.

"Laugh Riots generated a lot of incremental dollars," said Greves, adding that-given an apparent weakening in the economy and the ad marketplace-"that's going to be key [for affiliates] for 2001."

Adlink booked two new accounts, the Lowe's home- improvement retail chain and Round Table Pizza, as well as an existing client, AT&T Wireless Services, to sponsor the semifinals and the Sept. 22 finals.

For its sweepstakes grand prize, Adlink got AT&T Wireless to contribute a Motorola Inc. "StarTac" cellular phone, Round Table one year of pizzas and a Volkswagen Beetle.

Each Adlink sponsor received cross-channel exposure and on-site signage at both The Improvisation (where the semifinals were held) and the El Rey Theater (site of the finals), both in West Hollywood.

In Atlanta, AT&T sold Bass Ale sponsorship of its semifinal event, held at the Punchline Comedy Club. The MSO also worked with a local radio station on promoting the contest as well as a sweepstakes, whose grand prize was a trip to the finals in L.A.

In Boston, AT&T signed Carvel Ice Cream Corp. as the sponsor. Its package included coverage of the semifinals, held at local club the Comedy Connection, on the operator's local-origination channel.

A semifinal competition also was staged in New York, where there was no affiliate partner.

During September, the 70 semifinalists in Boston, Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles-chosen from some 300 videotaped submissions-were whittled down to seven finalists and then to one grand prize winner, who also received $3,000 and exposure on Comedy Central's
Premium Blend

stand-up comedy series.

"This is a model for future promotions for us," said Samuels. Comedy intends to pursue more customized and timely promotions rather than those from off-the-shelf-a term "that implies dusty and old," Greves added.

Given this year's results, Comedy executives already are enthused about next year's competition. For one thing, Greves said, the network may seek a national sponsor in addition to the local clients. Adlink's Lins said the 1999 sponsors-Taco Bell Corp. and Lincoln-Mercury-have now expressed interest in returning for 2001.

Other possibilities under discussion include expanding the contest to other major markets and showing the semifinals on the Internet and via broadband services like Road Runner, Greves added. Comedy may also produce a primetime special on the 2001 competition and finale, Samuels said.

Talent agents, show bookers, casting executives and the like were among attendees at the semifinals and finals, Comedy executives noted. Last year's winner, Retta, has since signed with 3 Arts

Entertainment (which manages Chris Rock and D.L. Hughley, among others), while four semifinalists taped a
Premium Blend

segment on up-and-comers for Comedy Central earlier this month.

The latest Laugh Riots winner, Deray, inked a television program development deal with ABC on the same day as he won that competition, a Comedy spokesman said.

Not only does the Montreal Comedy Festival feature the Laugh Riots' winner at its annual "New Faces" event, but representatives of the Aspen Comedy Festival are also looking at Comedy's contest as a talent resource.