5 Questions With…Babelgum’s Amber J. Lawson


Today’s Five Questions With… demands answers from Amber J. Lawson, who manages the comedy channel at Babelgum.com and has thus overseen as executive producer comedy shorts by Landline TV, original content like Date A Human.com, and the second seasons of The Crew and Old Friends. Prior to Babelgum, Lawson was VP of Programming at Mania TV and a comedy producer with National Lampoon. But while Lawson clearly knows funny, she focuses here on less funny topics like social TV, what she looks for in a prospective new project and how web video has created a renaissance of creativity.

1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?

In regard to the overall industry, I see three challenges we must overcome in order to successfully move forward:

A. Windowing: Large studios locking down all their intellectual property. The audience is demanding to see content on any platform at any time. But the closer studios hold onto windowing the IP, the more the audience will find ways around it that the studios won’t be able to monetize.

B. Monetization: Studios are beginning to recognize that the one revenue stream model no longer make sense. Money is now made through the multi-tentacle “octopus model” of smaller/micro-transactions from many sources.

C. Ownership of the platform. Meaning that instead of making the best content for the online platform, many independent content creators are making a web series and assuming that is the route to TV. I appreciate the entrepreneurial nature of the online space. But it’s not just making TV online and then hoping someone sees it and gives them a seven figure deal.

Trust me, I believe anything is possible and I support everyone’s dream of fortune and fame. However, I believe the medium at its purest is a opportunity for full self-expression of creativity. We are in a renaissance not unlike the mainstream birth of independent film, a time when Jon Faverau birthed Swingers and we discovered The Blair Witch Project and Memento. It’s imperative we unite.

2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?

I know everyone cringes when we use the word “transmedia” but I happen to LOVE IT. In fact, I have two companies with transmedia in the name.

3. If someone gave you $50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be? (Mentioning your own doesn’t count.)

I would invest in the technology to replicate and scale social TV. We live in an incredible time when our entertainment consumes our beings and we are lucky enough, if we so choose, to fully interact in intimate ways with our favorite TV, online, mobile, live, gaming and other experiences. Our entertainment is evolving into event programming.

I see this becoming a fully integrated part of our lives, a kind of Big Brother-esque experience that you can potentially be on, win prizes, participate with in real time on your phone and play at home on your computer. Phase one of social TV is interacting in real time with the content as it happens.

There are several versions of this that are successfully moving the needle forward right now. On a network level, Bravo has done a great job of creating interaction during the shows that involves the viewer in real-time chat rooms and encourages them to Twitter about episodes. Then, of course, there are live streams with live chat, like The Kevin Pollak Chat Show. This will become more commonplace, moving forward to expanded and fully immersive experiences.

4. What was the last video (that you weren’t personally involved with) that you liked enough to spread to others?

The last video I posted that wasn’t a Babelgum.com video was an episode of Crackle’s Urban Wolf. Excellent format and resale value similar to Vuguru’s model.

5. WILD-CARD: Babelgum has been very active over the past nine months in both producing and acquiring comedy content for its channel. What is the thing you look for in a project as a sign of its potential success? And is that a quality you feel is specific to Babelgum, or universal to web content?

The things I look for in a project as signs of its potential success are the potential for Babelgum brand awareness, which is most effectively accessed through celebrity projects like Kevin Pollak’s Vamped Out, as well as the viral-ability of timely and topical one-off videos like Little Jersey Shore or …In 60 Seconds.

I expect teams to come in and pitch fully formed ideas that they themselves can produce and most importantly a deep understanding of how online audiences work and how to interact and market to and with them to create a rabid audience. And I think most people in the web content space want to build their brand while simultaneously driving enough traffic to attract paying advertisers in order to monetize their business.

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): The State of Social TV


David Tochterman

I commend Amber J on her exquisite taste in longform video, specifically Urban Wolf :)


Who owns Funny OR Die?

From Wikipedia:

“Funny or Die is a comedy video website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions with original and user generated content. Funny or Die is unique in that it contains a good deal of exclusive material from a number of famous contributors (e.g. Judd Apatow, James Franco) and has its own Funny or Die Team (FOD Team) which creates original material for the site. Michael Kvamme, an aspiring young comedian, came up with a concept for a new kind of comedy site and the site was developed by Randy Adams. Videos are voted on by users of the site; those that are deemed funny stay, but those that are not “die” and are relegated to the site’s “crypt”.”

I assume that means that it is still privately held.

Amber J. Lawson

Touche Liz Shannon Miller. True, pretty dry for a comedy lady. And yes to the point of what would I do with 50 million dollars I would replicate the Funny OR Die and Onion models of creating a stable of actors, writers and directors who produce top notch online comedy content while developing the break out sketches into Live, games, TV shows and Movies, a model Lorne Michaels mastered decades ago .

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