Growing up in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York, Donny O’Malley, founder of Vet TV, knew he wanted to be a Marine like his father. He also wanted to make people laugh.
“I said one day, I’m going to create a production company that is just like [Adam Sandler’s] Happy Madison Productions and I’m going to staff it with my friends and my family and make people laugh as a job,” O’Malley recalled.
He joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving six years in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. He retired for medical reasons and self-published a book, Embarrassing Confessions of a Marine Lieutenant. A video he made to market his book resonated with infantry men and women and went viral. He made more videos and got comments from veterans like, “No one’s telling military stories in a funny way. I would pay for this.” So he raised $300,000 with a Kickstarter campaign and started Vet TV in 2017, a VOD service now with 90,000 subscribers at $5 a month.
O’Malley spoke to Multichannel News senior content producer Jon Lafayette.
Are you trying to get on traditional TV or cable? No, there are too many rules there that would affect what we create because what we create is very controversial. It’s very dark. It’s irreverent, racy and it accurately represents the military experience and the sense of humor that we use to get through the military experience. So we don’t need a distributor. We don’t need a cable network. We just need to keep making our community happy with the stuff that we create, making sure that it speaks to them, that it’s authentic and accurately represents their experiences and thoughts and emotions, and they’ll keep paying five dollars a month.
Tell me about your new programming. Our most recent show is called Meanwhile in the Field. It’s real stories that happened while training. The first three episodes are focused on the 82nd Airborne Division, the second three are made for the Rakkasans, who are part of the 101st Airborne Division. We’re increasing the length per episode to 22 minutes so that we open up opportunities for distribution outside of the network if it could bring in more revenue without cannibalizing our subscription service.
How do you want to grow Vet TV? We’re going to start a movie division, a podcast division, a books and comic book publishing division. And we’ll create a commercial division, but probably in a couple of years, just because we’ve developed so much talent that the talent can be directed to create anything. We hired Sherine Saad Anderson who did marketing at Disney and Universal and is now our head of marketing. We just brought in Levi Smock from Fine Brothers Entertainment. This business was built on people who had no experience doing any of these jobs. Now we’re bringing in people who have been doing this for 10-plus years and that’s going to get us to the next level.
Are you generating enough cash to fund the company and grow? We’re fortunate to finally be in the black and not have to keep worrying about making payroll. I would love to take on a large investor — at least $5 million — and plus up our staff and drastically increase the amount of things that are produced by the company. The goal is to add massive value to the subscription.
The investor wouldn’t be a traditional media company? Correct. We have [an investor] in mind who has already grown racy, controversial subscription platforms. That’s the number one thing, because as soon as I talk to someone and they tell me, what do you think about maybe toning the content down a bit and opening up to a broader audience, I know I’m not talking to that person because they don’t get it.
Favorite TV show? Eastbound & Down
Place on your vacation bucket list? Probably Bali, maybe Bora Bora, but Bali has better surf. A surf trip in a beautiful tropical place, that’s what I need.
What book is on your nightstand? The New Ministry of Truth: Combat Advisers in Afghanistan and America’s Great Betrayal by Maurice L. Naylon IV, a Marine officer. It wasn’t intended as a comedy but the way we fought the war in Afghanistan was so insanely stupid, pathetic and absurd. He wrote about it in a kind of funny way.
Do you have a favorite app? I’m on Google Docs and Google Sheets all day. And Duet for our screenplays, Slack for communication and Zoom and Google Hangouts. And Surfline to check the surf.
Have you had a recent memorable meal? I had a handful of our new hires for the company on my patio overlooking the lake here in San Diego. We talk about our experiences and our vision for the company.
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.