But MTVN has ambitions beyond making Atom a more buzzworthy competitor to the much-hyped if traffic-challenged Funny or Die. The group is doing away with the old indie-video-aggregator model of AtomFilms and the atomfilms.com URL it acquired in 2006 for some $200 million in favor of a focus on humor. It's also betting that its new role as "the punk label to Comedy Central," as Erik Flannigan, MTVN Entertainment's exec VP-digital media put it, will help the site build share in the increasingly fragmented online comedy space.
The move isn't so bold once you look at traffic figures for the site's core demo. According to ComScore, AtomFilms reached 296,000 unique men aged 18 to 34 in May 2008, a 7% decrease from May 2007 but enough to rank the site fifth in that demo when stacked up against other humor sites. Sister site ComedyCentral.com placed third in the young-male demo in the humor category, attracting 396,000 unique visitors last month. Funny Or Die, Atom's supposed rival, ranked 10th, with 141,000 unique male visitors 18 to 34.
New comedic identity
Yet carving out a new comedic identity for Atom is an admittedly tricky task for Mr. Flannigan, who said previous attempts to integrate AtomFilms content into Comedy Central's web offerings often confused fans who went to ComedyCentral.com. "When you have clips of 'The Daily Show,' 'The Colbert Report,' 'South Park' and Sarah Silverman on your website and a devoted audience that's coming to look for them every day, it can be challenging for other content -- especially new and essentially unknown -- to break through," he said.
To that end, Atom will host a library of 20,000 videos, both user-generated and professionally produced, including some with built-in integration models. The site's content will also be aggregated on-air for the new late-night series "Atom TV," which made its debut on Comedy Central this week.
Scott Roetsch, general manager of Atom.com, is hopeful the new site will strike a chord among comedy fans while still staying true to AtomFilms' original goal of giving voice to indie filmmakers. "Atom built a following around content nobody's heard of. We tested it out over the last year, co-releasing properties on Comedy and on Atom, and saw videos outperform pretty significantly on Atom vs. Comedy Central. It was such a natural decision to move Atom into this role of being the vertical for original digital comedy."
Bringing in brands
Mr. Roetsch also wants to bring brands into the mix, but in nontraditional ways. Atom's premier sponsor, Verizon Wireless, for example, is featured throughout the site in a variety of different ad models aiming to "lessen the dependence on pre-rolls," Mr. Roetsch said. So rather than beginning with a 15-second ad, most clips are accompanied by a small overlay ad that can be easily clicked away, or wrap-around banner ads that communicate the Verizon message without intruding on the viewer experience.
Branded entertainment on the site will be held to similarly selective standards. "You can do it where you put the brands' needs in front of entertainment and no one wants to watch it, and that's the problem," Mr. Roetsch said. One of the first projects Atom is taking to the ad community is a short-form series called "Agency," a sort of "The Office" meets "Mad Men" set in a small Midwestern ad agency "typically handling accounts such as the used-car dealership down the street or the local pizza joint," Mr. Roetsch said.
But the less-than-award-winning ad team somehow lands a major national account, which happens to be the show's soon-to-be-announced sponsor. "We're talking to people who are looking to have fun with their brands, and the end result will be content we not only feel has real potential to draw an audience online, but a real advertising campaign will unfold before our users' eyes in the course of the show."
Top 10 humor sites among men 18 to 34 in May 2008||Site||Unique Visitors||Change vs. May 2007|
|National Lampoon Humor Network||1,002,000||+8%|
|Funny or Die||141,000||-70%|