McGrath Wants to Clone Comedy

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Judy McGrath, MTV Networks newly named chairman and CEO, isn’t wasting any time pursuing ways to capitalize on the company’s brands, with Comedy Central on the top of her list.

Last week, at a conference for investors, McGrath tipped her hand on some of her plans. She said that with Comedy Central so hot this year, MTVN is considering spinning off a digital channel, a stand-up network, and is looking to rebrand some of its international channels with Comedy’s moniker.

“The time is now,” Comedy Central president Doug Herzog said in an interview last week. “We’re at the right place to start figuring out what a Comedy Central 2 might look like and what that might be.”

ACQUISITIONS POSSIBLE

That isn’t the only option MTVN is exploring. It is also looking for opportunities to target young Hispanics, and is considering making acquisitions to further that goal, as well as looking for ways to better serve baby boomers.

Comedy Central — riding high this year on the success of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart’s election coverage — seems to be MTVN’s top priority.

“The plan for Comedy is to add more screens, you know, digital channels, beyond joke of the day,” McGrath said during her presentation at the Credit Suisse First Boston Media and Telecom Week conference in New York City. “I think there’s a lot they can do online and in wireless.”

Comedy Central “doesn’t have a digital platform associated with it,” and its Web site “is just beginning,” according to McGrath. MTVN is trying to build Comedy an Internet play, and is looking into wireless.

“Maybe there’s a stand-up channel in the future.” McGrath said. “I think the brand has such value, largely through Jon Stewart and Dave Chappelle and some other obvious hits, that I think there’s a lot of interest in seeing Comedy Central travel even internationally. There are some Paramount comedy networks overseas. We’re thinking about rebranding those [as] Comedy Central.”

HERZOG’S PLEASED

Executives at Comedy Central couldn’t be more pleased.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Herzog said. “Now that we are under the MTVN umbrella, we kind of have the resources and wherewithal and, quite frankly, the blessing and enthusiasm from the company, to start looking at these things and seriously being in pursuit.”

Comedy was once jointly owned by Time Warner Inc. and MTVN parent Viacom Inc., which later bought the 50% it didn’t own.

“Historically, we’ve concentrated mostly on the television network, for a lot of good reasons,” Herzog said. “We were building a network. Quite frankly, over the past couple of years, because of the nature of the joint venture, we didn’t really have the resources to go much beyond. Now we do, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. We feel there’s a lot of opportunities out there for us to reach out on new platforms, whether it’s broadband or digital or to be determined.”

According to Herzog, “Our brand is now established enough, and strong enough, where we really need something out there and I think people are anxious to sort of interact with us in different ways and we’re anxious to reach them in different ways.”

In addition to creating new “screens” for Comedy Central, MTVN is also considering options for its international networks or buying a Hispanic-oriented service.

“We’re thinking of bringing some of our MTV International services here to serve some of the diverse populations that exists in pockets of the U.S., as well as broadband networks,” MTVN group president Van Toffler told the assembled stock analysts at the Media and Telecom confab.

During their joint presentation, McGrath and Toffler also cited the Hispanic-American market and baby boomers as underserved audiences that MTVN wants to better target, as well as the gay market, which the company will reach with Logo, debuting next year.

“We’re always incubating ideas,” McGrath said. “We tend to look at underserved audiences. We’re very proud of Logo, [which] we’ll be launching for the gay and lesbian audience. We’re looking at Hispanic-Americans. We’ve certainly had tremendous success with Dora [the Explorer] and Diego and Brothers Garcia and some of the things that Nickelodeon folks have put out there. We know that’s the fastest-growing segment in the overall population of the states and we really want to develop some things there.”

In fact, the producer that created The Brothers Garcia for Nick, Jeff Valdez, has launched independent cable network Sí TV, an English-language service aimed at Latinos.

On the Hispanic front, some of the options MTVN is considering include possibly making an acquisition and trying to find ways for its existing cable networks to better serve that demographic.

“Right now, we’re assessing what we have, which is pretty interesting,” McGrath said. “Van’s got MTV Espanol. In Miami, we’ve got a great team focused on MTV Latin America, which sort of lives the Hispanic-American lifestyle, if you will. We’re involved in looking at potential acquisitions or how we can improve what’s already on our own networks, as we overindex with these audiences on MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon anyway. It’s just sort of understanding who this audience, sort of emerging demographic, is and serving them on our current networks and looking at opportunities to build something unique and great for them, even if its in digital.”

HISPANIC AIMS

Toffler also said MTVN is examining how to serve second-generation Hispanic-Americans, younger people who are more acculturated and less Spanish-language-oriented. That approach is actually very similar to Sí TV’s strategy.

In addition to young Hispanics, baby boomers are also of special interest to MTVN, according to McGrath.

“We’re looking at some upscale boomer opportunities for us, more adult, like Van is an upscale Boomer,” she said “We’re always looking at opportunities to create something new. We do have an eye for underserved and emerging audiences out there. That’s really one of the fun and the interesting parts of the next couple of years. You’ll see some action.”

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