NBC Takes the Wraps Off SeeSo, a New Streaming Comedy Platform

Subscription Service Bows in January

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NBCUniversal on Thursday unveiled "SeeSo," a new subscription streaming service designed to appeal to the millennial comedy-nerd crowd. Set to launch in January 2016, the ad-free over-the-top offering will carry a $3.99-per-month subscription fee, and will feature new and archival content.

Evan Shapiro
Evan Shapiro Credit: NBCU

According to Evan Shapiro, exec VP, NBCU Digital Enterprises, SeeSo is meant to function as a complementary service to the media conglomerate's robust portfolio of linear television networks. At the same time, the venture is an unambiguous response to the ongoing migration of younger viewers from live TV to over-the-top/streaming platforms.

Over the last few years, viewers in SeeSo's target demos increasingly have become inured to the charms of traditional TV. And the migration continues apace; season-to-date, TV usage among men 18 to 34 has declined 11% versus the year-ago period, while women in the same age bracket are down 7%. The churn rate by members of the younger set has been even more pronounced, as TV usage among men 18 to 24 is down 14% compared to the first four weeks of last season, while women 18 to 24 are off 13%.

In his opening remarks to a group of reporters packed in SeeSo's SoHo office space, Mr. Shapiro characterized comedy as a "big niche," adding that the service will look to avoid the "paradox of choice" that can make scrolling through the menus of more comprehensive sites like Netflix an exercise in option paralysis.

SeeSo's library content will include full episodes of late-night NBC properties like "Saturday Night Live" and "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," as well as homegrown sitcoms such as "30 Rock," "The Office" and "Parks & Recreation." Representing the gold standard of NBC's 21st century comedy development, the aforementioned shows were among the last sitcoms to air on the network's vaunted Thursday prime time lineup. (In February, the Peacock launched its first comedy-free Thursday night since the 1980-81 season.)

SeeSo has dozens of original comedy series in development, with an eye toward producing around 20 new programs in its first year of operation. Among the 30-minute series in the works are the dark comedy "Flowers," a co-production with the UK's Channel 4; "The UCB Show," a sketch/standup comedy showcase hosted by Amy Poehler and Matt Walsh; and "HarmonQuest," a live-action/animated hybrid chronicling "Community" and "Rick and Morty" creator Dan Harmon and his comedian friends' obsessive immersion in the world of roleplaying games.

Also in the hopper are a number of standup series, variety shows and animated strips. The investment in original content comes at a time when NBC is carrying its lightest TV comedy load in 37 years. The network has just two sitcoms ("Undateable," "Truth Be Told") on its prime time docket, and both air on low-impact Friday nights.

In addition to all the original content in various stages of development at SeeSo, the startup has nailed down the exclusive rights to the entire Monty Python library and "The Kids in the Hall." Fans of anarchic Brit comedies will have cause to celebrate, as SeeSo will stream the likes of "The Young Ones," "Black Adder," "Fawlty Towers" and Steve Coogan's various "Alan Partridge" efforts.

If nothing else, the exclusive original content could serve as a justification for the monthly subscription fee. As it stands now, so much of NBCU's extant content is already available for free on other platforms (Hulu, YouTube, etc.), that the newly-produced and licensed series may prove to be the greatest incentive for comedy fans to kick the tires on SeeSo.

When asked what NBCU was paying out for all that content, Mr. Shapiro would only say "a shit-ton" of money. While that's a rather vague benchmark, it's safe to say that the company has made a multimillion-dollar investment in SeeSo.

Mr. Shapiro, who made his mark in TV as the president of IFC and Sundance Channel and the executive producer of such cable comedy series as "Portlandia," "Greg the Bunny" and "The Whitest Kids U' Know," joined NBCU's digital team in December 2014.

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