Monday, November 28, 2005

Writing Comedy on the Internet

Since we're still having technical problems with our main website, here's the report from the event last week.
The future for comedy writers is either incredibly exciting or incredibly depressing. There will be either a huge number of new opportunities or it will become impossible to make a living. The glass might be half-full, but equally everyone in the pub might have finished their drinks and be waiting for you to buy the next round.
That, at least, seemed to be the message coming from the Guild event in London on 23 November, ‘Writing Comedy on the Internet for Fun and Profit’. Organised by Dave Cohen, and attended by a packed house of Guild and non-Guild writers, it was a chance to take stock of new developments and hear about what the online future might hold for comedy writers.
The first speakers were Dougal Templeton and Tim Heming from E3 media and its subsidiary, Wildfire Communications.
In the summer they beat off fierce competition to win the contract to produce a new user-generated site called Soup that will form a major part of the BBC’s online comedy content.
The idea, as Tim, who will edit the site, explained, is that Soup will be “a showcase for original comedy material and will develop into breeding-ground and networking area for comedy talent.” The target audience will be 18-30 year-olds, people who perhaps don’t watch much TV but like viral comedy and sites like b3ta.
In fact b3ta seemed to be, in many ways, the inspiration for Soup since it will allow users to upload video (live action or animation), audio and visual gags. The big difference will be that content will be moderated so that it conforms to BBC Guidelines and, rather than being anonymous as much of this sort of content is on the web, the creators will be fully credited.
Also, there will be lots of tie-ins with other BBC comedy content and the BBC is promising to make at least some archive material available.
Soup will be launched in early 2006, and seed content is already being sought. Because it is seen as a user-created site, the plan is not, in the main, to make payments to contributors. However, Tim said that if people have content that he really wants to put on the site, especially if it is a series of pieces, he is open to negotiation. You can contact him on for more information, but remember he is looking for produced audio, video or picture content, not scripts or ideas.
Both Dougal and Tim stressed that the BBC see the site as a showcase for new talent. Anyone who makes an impact on the site will attract the attention of producers, they said.


The second speaker at the event was Nick Hildred, a comedy writer who is currently producing a twice-weekly podcast, Whack My Bush
Podcasts are digital audio files that can be downloaded to computers and mp3 players. and, as Nick explained, the great thing is that it “provide a chance for writers to throw off the shackles and do it for themselves.” The audio comedy market is completely dominated by Radio 4, but anyone can, with a little bit of hard work, produce a podcast.
Well, in Nick’s case quite a lot of hard work, actually. “I have put in at least 50-hours a week since we started,” he said. And his writing partner has done about the same. The writing is just one part of the process. The recordings have to be arranged, recorded and edited – all of which is hard work.

However, each five minute podcast of Whack My Bush is currently receiving more than 10,000 downloads and the feedback, Nick said, had been excellent. The real test will come in the next few months as they try to persuade people to pay for what up until now they have received for free.
There was a high degree of consensus among the panel from the floor that the entertainment industry is undergoing rapid change. However, while everyone seems to agree that “content is king” it is not yet clear whether producers will be prepared to pay for it. People like Nick, who are doing it for themselves, might come to be seen as pioneers of a new and profitable way for comedy writers to reach a global audience. Or they might not.

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