HBO Launches Laugh Fest

Home Box Office and live-event producer AEG Live will partner to create The Comedy Festival, a three-day event in Las Vegas this November, with co-owned Turner Broadcasting System Inc.’s TBS as the title sponsor.

The event will feature more than 50 performances in nine Vegas venues at Caesars Palace and the Flamingo Las Vegas between Nov. 17 and 20, 2005, with stand-up, sketch comedy and film screenings on HBO and TBS, which has rebranded itself as a comedy net, and possibly other TV net and cable platforms.

The only programming announced so far is the two-hour, Earth to America, a comedy music event that will kick off the festival Nov. 17 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace, airing on TBS in fourth-quarter 2005.

The special, created and executive produced by environmental activist Laurie David, will feature Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Will Ferrell, Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Ray Romano, Jack Black, and Larry David.

HBO, which has for the past 11 years sponsored the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, an annual event for industry insiders, is aiming to target a wider consumer audience with the addition of the Vegas show, says Bob Crestani, who has worked for HBO as CEO of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival since 2004 and will act as CEO of the Vegas festival.

“What we do in Aspen is about discovery and alternative acts,” Crestani says. “Think of this as the Olympics, we’re going to have major talent involved in Vegas.”

HBO is aiming to attract more than 4,000 attendees for the Vegas comedy festival – more than double the 1,500 who attend Aspen each year – and will create a subset of special speakers and panels for attendees in the entertainment industry.

In addition to HBO and TBS, the Festival is in discussions to air programming on other networks including Fox and Comedy Central, or via other cable platforms – Comcast, for example, produced a VOD special of last year’s Aspen festival, which has not yet aired.

“We think comedy is a real driver for a lot of different delivery platforms and we want to not only utilize our partners, but look for ways to spread it out,” Crestani said.

AEG Live, a concert promotion and touring company, produces live events including  the American Idol concert tours.

Crestani said he might leverage the company’s expertise to launch a comedy tour in conjunction with the Vegas festival. TBS re-branded itself as the “very funny” network in June 2004.

Time Warner-owned HBO reaches about 39 million subscribers via cable and satellite with premium channels HBO and Cinemax.