The vast majority of staff at longtime comedy video mainstay CollegeHumor Media have been laid off after its parent company, IAC/InterActive Corp., chose to cease funding it. More than 100 people have lost their jobs across flagship CollegeHumor, verticals Dorkly and Drawfee, and subscription service Dropout.
However, CollegeHumor is not shutting down. Chief creative officer Sam Reich, who joined the company in 2006 (the same year IAC acquired it) and pioneered its push into digital video, has reached a deal with IAC to take primary ownership of CH Media.
IAC “has made the difficult decision to no longer finance us,” Reich tweeted. “The twist, however, is that IAC has agreed to let me run with the company myself. In words that I’m sure are as surreal to read as they are to type, I will soon become the new majority owner of CH Media.” (IAC will retain minority ownership. Financial and ownership split details of the deal were not disclosed.)
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He went on to add, though, that “I can’t keep it going like you’re used to. While we were on the way to becoming profitable, we were nonetheless losing money—and I myself have no money to be able to lose.”
I will, however, do my very best to stay true to the talent, shows, fans, and principles that got us where we are today.
We dropped out once before; we can do it again. Independent comedy lives on — just now more independent (gulp) than ever before.
— Sam Reich (@samreich) January 8, 2020
If you didn’t see reports late last year that IAC was looking to sell CollegeHumor, you may be wondering WTF happened here. The company has been pumping out a steady stream of edgy comedy content to fans on platforms like YouTube (where it has 13M subscribers and gets an average of 30M views per month) and Facebook (9.4M followers) for years—and that might be exactly the problem.
Adam Conover, who wrote and starred in one of CollegeHumor’s biggest hits, Adam Ruins Everything, took to Twitter late last year, after Facebook was fined $40 million for inflating video viewership metrics by a staggering 150% to 900%.
“When I joined CH, fans watched videos on OUR SITE,” Conover tweeted. “That meant that we sold the ads and controlled the metrics. We had a killer ad sales team, and made custom videos for major brands. YouTube was mosty just to drive traffic to the site. It was a real business!”
But then, “I specifically remember the fateful day someone said ‘You have to see the numbers native videos get on Facebook. They’re INSANE.’ Too good to pass up! So we started posting videos natively to Facebook instead,” Conover wrote. And that switch nudged CollegeHumor off its comedy king perch and onto a long, dark slope of dwindling revenues. They quickly realized there was just “no way to monetize” their content, Conover said.
The result: the beautiful constellation of independent comedy sites that represented a new emerging middle class of content creation shrunk and in many places collapsed. All because of Facebook’s falsified viewer data (oh, and all the other shady shit they did)
— Adam Conover (@adamconover) October 13, 2019
CollegeHumor’s biggest monetization effort post-Facebook has been subscription service Dropout. Launched in September 2018, it offers subscribers (who pay $3.99, $4.99, or $5.99 per month, depending on the length of their subscription) exclusive series, early viewing of all CollegeHumor videos, and access to a server on chat platform Discord where they can talk to cast and crew members.
Reich has made it clear that Dropout is the most vital part of CollegeHumor’s business plan moving forward. “The #1 way you can support me is to stay subscribed to Dropout,” he tweeted. He added that a significant update to the service is coming at the end of this month, and will add two “long-desired” features: video downloads, and access to the Discord server for international subscribers.
As of right now, CH Media is being run by a skeleton crew of between five and 10 staffers, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Reich said the company has a buffer of content already produced, and over the next six months will debut installments of series like Dimension 20, Um, Game Changer, and Breaking News.