Vertical ad networks typically are designed to build display ad inventory for brand name publishers. The trend for comedy sites and ad networks, however, combines display with custom branded content opportunities. MTV Networks has partnered with animation studio JibJab, in part, to provide custom content for advertisers.
In conjunction with the launch of its new comedy ad network, or Tribe, Viacom-owned MTV Networks is now the exclusive ad sales rep for JibJab.com. Through the relationship, MTV can sell JibJab as part of its Comedy Tribe, or separately, in addition to offering advertisers sponsorships of the animation firm's content and site channels.
MTVN's ComedyCentral.com will act as the hub of the vertical ad net, which also includes humorous news aggregator site Fark.com and oddball news site Weekly World News. According to Heather Hopkins, general manager of Tribes at MTVN, the company is negotiating with about five other sites regarding inclusion in the network. MTVN will have access to some premium display ad inventory through those relationships.
"Ultimately, we look to build out our Tribes to be about three to five times the size of our anchor site," said Hopkins, noting that, like most vertical networks, the Tribes have been created to provide broader reach for MTVN's advertisers. MTV launched its Tribe initiative, which includes an MTV Generation network and a parenting network, in September.
"The problem with jumping on this network bandwagon is you dilute your brand," said Sam Stahl, VP of sales at CollegeHumor, another comedy site publisher. "We're not attempting to go and sign every little site out there."
To address brand dilution concerns, MTVN vets new network site additions with its ad sales staff, said Hopkins.
In addition to its flagship CollegeHumor site and its daily video site Today's Big Thing, CollegeHumor will soon sell ads and integrated advertiser opportunities on behalf of U.K.-based site Kontraband. According to Stahl, the company is interested in partnering with additional sites to "revamp and build up using their existing team and resources." CollegeHumor has also begun selling in-stream video advertising.
National Lampoon has made several site acquisitions and created niche networks such as its Drunk University Network, and goofy female-aimed celebrity gossip site network ZAZ.
CollegeHumor's network ranked third in unique visitor traffic to humor sites, according to Nielsen Online, garnering 4.3 million visitors in December. Quiz Rocket was the top humor site, grabbing over 11 million unique visitors in December; the site hosts silly online quizzes such as "The Dumb Blonde Test" and "The Pirate vs Ninja Quiz." JibJab came in second place with around 10.5 million uniques.
Elf Yourself, the annual Office Max holiday feature that employed JibJab's customizable photo platform in 2008, ranked fourth according to Nielsen, attracting 2.5 million unique visitors. Hopkins described the 2008 ElfYourself site as a prime example of the type of content MTVN hopes to create for advertisers through the JibJab deal. For instance, she said, JibJab is developing a tool allowing people to include photos of themselves in extreme sports scenarios. MTVN plans to sell a sponsorship of that offering.
Creating branded content is of interest to advertisers, explained Hopkins, because "particularly in this tough market for advertisers, they're looking for ways to break through beyond just display."
"We use display as a means to an end to do some really fun, integrated programs," said Stahl.
Mountain Dew, for example, recently sponsored a daily CollegeHumor talk show featuring comedian Dan Levy. Although film studios and makers of male grooming products dominate the firm's advertiser client roster, brands such as AT&T and Pepsi were recent advertisers.
The fact that many comedy sites, including CollegeHumor, National Lampoon, and ComedyCentral.com, have in-house production teams for their site content makes them well-suited for building branded content for advertisers. "For any business that at its heart is about content production, it's kind of a natural extension," said Hopkins.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.