Monday, October 29, 2012
Decoding The Science Behind The Laughs, With Daniel Altman of Laffster
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
One of the major growth areas along Silicon Beach has been in the whole area of creating content for digital platforms. But, how do you figure out what actual content will resonate with online consumers? And in particular, if you're developing comedy and humor content -- which is a big segment of the content being created--how to do you help people find the content which will resonate with them. In the case of Los Angeles-based Laffster (www.laffster.com), you apply software algorithms, science, and research to figure it all out. We spoke with Daniel Altman, the CEO of the company, to learn more.
Tell us a little bit about your background and the company?
Daniel Altman: We recently were in the fall class of MuckerLab. We just graduated, and wrapped up a round of $750,000, with a bunch of great folks from both up north and here. Those investors included a company called Paradigm, which is a big talent agency, Howard Lindzon in San Diego, and up north Greylock and Adam Nash. My background is that I was at IAC, focused on advertising solutions and advertising engagement. One of the companies there I was working with was CollegeHumor. I figured out that there was this massive market for comedic content, but the market was extremely scattered. The distribution of comedic content is very unsophisticated, compared with other forms of content, who are working with more sophisticated distributors, and getting more attention, and which have better personalization and discovery tools.
From research and working with IAC, was saw that more than fifty percent of the videos online are web humor and comedy. My partner is ex-Google engineering, who is also a comedian and hosts a pretty popular show every week. He had the idea that as a comedian and performer making videos, someone needed to create technology to add personalization and discovery around how we laugh, exactly as you get those things now for music and other forms of content. We set up to develop that technology, in partnership with institutions and researchers, psychologists, and marketing professors. We've got a professor at UC Boulder, a neuroscientist at Dartmouth, and Robert Mankoff, the cartoon editor at the New York, who had been developing his own sophisticated tools behind cartoons. So, we started to create ways of categorizing and classifying comedic content. As we did that, the industry and research started to grow around us. Recently, USC's film school started a comedic content major. Before, no one was teaching you how to look at comedic content, how to study it, and how to replicate it. So we've partnered and worked with technology partners, and built a technology company to develop applications for ourselves and third party platforms. The first app we're applying this technology to is Mock The Vote, a one-stop destination around the election. We saw that one third of Americans under 40 have started using satirical news sources as replacements for news from someone like Fox News or CNN. They're not ill informed, they're just short on time and think the news networks are biased. So, we've used our technology to createa quick and easy application to find out what is funny and what's happening in the election.
It looks like you're using a mobile-first approach to getting your technology out there?
Daniel Altman: We saw a really good opportunity on this to create a quick and easy mobile app, so that when you're on the go you can keep up with the news. We saw how we consume the news, and we wanted somewhere we could bring all of these sources together. We've got original contributors such as Vox Media, Maker Studio's POLIPOP Network, everyone from the Bad Lip Reading Guys, to Barackdubs, it spans the spectrum. We also work with other sources such as The Onion, Jon Stewart, and The Onion. We take curated content from sources we bring in, and categorize it, and make it really quick and easy to consume on the go, and laugh at the same time.
It sounds like you're really about the technology, not the content?
Daniel Altman: The really great content creators have lots of money, and are building great shows around super talent, and there are many traditional rights holders who have a tremendous amount of content. We see the ability to work with both of them, by first developing technology around other content, and then working with those content creators to optimize the content. It's not about us creating content, yet. We might look at that down the line, in creating branded content, to mix in with original content. But, really, at our core, we want to build our technology and utilize it to help drive viewers to other content holders. As you can see in the LA landscape, there are already a tremendous number of YouTube channels, sites like FunnyOrDie, and CollegeHumor. But, it's always been a problem, in comedy and other areas, to discover that content. We want to tackle this area of discovery, and build up our defensible technology really well there.
What's the business model behind Laffster?
Daniel Altman: For us, it's about user acquisition, and working on the technology. There are lots of opportunities with other companies popping up, and other good people in content. They need a layer to optimize that content online. Our plan is to drive discovery and drive engagement around content, and in doing so, build revenue through the partners we are working with, through their ad revenue and sponsorship deals, through our own sponsorship deals, and ultimately look at creating technology that a company around comedic content can acquire, and who looks at us as very valuable. Our goal is to show that, by leveraging our technology, they can drive view counts and engagement. Even the best sites don't have people watching lots of video, with the exception of long form content sites like Hulu and the Netflixes of the world.