Go ahead, try not to laugh while watching 2-year-old Pearl of "The Landlord" scream, "I need to get my drink on" at actor Will Ferrell. Or director Judd Apatow's juvenile, celebrity-filled parodies of the "More You Know" public-service announcements. Plus, who knew actors James Franco and Jerry O'Connell could be that subversively comical?
Yet, as amusing as it is to watch Hollywood comedy scenesters (and their children) goof around, what else is the website, one year after its much-hyped debut? A Web 2.0 comedy breeding ground? A star maker for undiscovered comedians? A branded franchise? The future of online network media? An advertising vehicle? In a word, yes.
Why limit yourself?
"It's all of the above because they're not mutually exclusive," said Dick Glover, president-CEO of Or Die Networks, which also includes Shred or Die with skateboarder Tony Hawk; Blue Collar or Die, with comedian Jeff Foxworthy; and, new this week, Eat Drink or Die, with yet-to-be-announced celebrity chefs. "But first," continued Mr. Glover, "we are an internet video company with a very efficient and scalable platform that works really well at the core of what we do."
The site has had only one runaway hit, "The Landlord," but early assessors are calling it the first successful collaboration between Hollywood and Silicon Valley; it's helmed by members of both, including comedian Mr. Ferrell, director Adam McKay and Sequoia venture capitalist Mark Kvamme.
The aspirations of Or Die also include advertising: sponsorships, product placements, co-branded entertainment, original content created by marketers and integrated sponsorships appearing both online and off. First-year advertisers include major motion-picture studios, TV networks and many of the cable networks, as well as product marketers such as Frito Lay, Anheuser-Busch and Rolling Rock.
Anyone else getting a young-male ad vibe? That's true, Mr. Glover said, but only to a point: "The sweet spot is clearly young men, but there's also a significant female contingent there too." Shred or Die skews young male, Blue Collar is older and Eat Drink is expected to lean more female.
Like hit Hollywood movies, the Or Die network sites have a formula. They start with the celebrities and their friends, give them creative freedom and quick-turnaround publishing, then open up to viewers who can post their own submissions. It's all topped off with a unique "in or out" voting component.
"Celebrities become the tip of the content iceberg," Mr. Glover said. "You do get content from them, but then it also brings all of the people associated with them into this world because they want to hang out together there."
To be sure, Funny or Die faces competition for eyeballs and talent. Companies like Broadband Enterprises and Heavy.com do deals with Hollywood vets and studios for online humor content while aggregators such as Break.com and, of course, video-sharing juggernaut YouTube attract amateur sketch comedians.
Traffic is solid, if spiky. In February, the site had 1.6 million unique viewers who watched 3.3 million videos, according to ComScore, down from a high of 4.6 million viewers and 12.2 million video views in May 2007 but up from a low of 1.3 million viewers and 2.7 million videos in August 2007.
"A site like this has great viral capability. They've got a mix of novelty and name, the unknown and more well-known," said analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence. "The ultimate scenario for them would be to become a brand, developed into TV shows, live performances and who knows what else."
To build the franchise, Mr. Ferrell headlined the sold-out Funny or Die Comedy Tour on college campuses in February. But young and established comedians and actors have used the site to build their personal brands. Mr. Glover said the site has helped launch at least three comedians to bigger careers in Hollywood, including Jon Lajoie and Ross Patterson.
Some others on the site, like Matt Houchin, are still waiting for their break. He and friend Ross McNamara live in Minneapolis, and they're the Bloomington Bros. on Funny or Die. They haven't been "discovered," so to speak, but they have gotten lots of feedback from fans and colleagues as well as a lead that resulted in a $1,000 gig to create a funny video for another site.
"It's just a really cool way to get yourself out there," he said. "I do live shows ... for 200 people a night. But this gets seen by people all over the world."