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Surfing for laughs

Knock Knock." "Who's there?" "Comedy Central's new Web site." "Comedy Central's new Web site who?"

"Comedy Central's new Web site that is going to attempt to become a destination site that will make people laugh a lot more than this knock-knock joke."

While the world may not need another knock-knock joke, it can always use more laughter, and with a little luck, Comedy Central's new approach to its Web site will extend the laughs from its cable network to the Internet. Ken Locker, Comedy Central senior vice president, enterprises and new media, has been given the task of making Comedy Central's Web site a business opportunity that will help the network laugh all the way to the bank.

"We want to promote our core brand in a way that is original and makes it a destination site," says Locker. "People will watch our shows and then go onto the Internet to get deeper into the shows, and, based on that, we'll build a community around that."

The new content offerings begin Oct. 2 with the Comedy Central Radio Network. The network will offer standup, music and other audio content aiming for laughs. The long-range goal is to provide a redesigned site in April that offers online content related to the broadcast content.

With everyone seemingly hunting for first-mover advantage, Comedy Central will have just that. Many networks have talked about using the Internet to allow visitors to drill deeper into broadcast content, and it has been done for sports or news. But Comedy Central will be the first to allow for deeper drilling related to fictional content.

"An episode of a program will end, and immediately we'll release something on the Web that contains elements related to that show," explains Locker. For example, it could include an additional scene with characters or other related information. The ideas are limitless-and the costs lower than expected, according to Locker.

"We have a production group in-house so the incremental cost is pretty small, because the set is already built and the actors are already there," he explains. "So we'll send our two-person crew with a Hi8 camcorder and maybe need an actor for an additional hour."

The goal is to create a site that leverages the interactive capabilities of the Internet. "The history of all media is they define themselves on the medium they came out of," adds Locker. "TV was radio with pictures for years. The Internet is now trying to be television, but it's not. And that's why we're trying to get into this interactive, nonlinear story telling."

That doesn't mean that linear content can't be an online winner as well. Comedy Central is offering Web visitors the means to purchase complete episodes of South Park and Dr. Katz on the site. The cost is $4.95 to own the file and $2.50 for a two-day rental. is helping with the distribution and encoding.

"We're using two-key public-encryption technology," explains Locker. "If you rent the file, it's time-based, so once it's encrypted the clock starts running."

The two-key system works by giving the user half of the unique "key" to the 128-character encryption code. When the file is paid for, the user is given the other half of the key to watch the program. And if they forward the program onto another user, that person is only given half the key.

Will the sale of complete episodes extend to live-action programs like Strangers With Candy? Don't expect it. "Full-motion video isn't going to look very good," adds Locker. "In animation we're not always doing 30 frames per second, and there's less motion, so you can get away with less than 30 fps. Our philosophy on streaming media is we don't like to do television. Why watch a five-minute movie jerking around in a 2-inch window?"

If all goes well, the site will deliver the type of audience traffic that will make advertising and sponsorship opportunities more attractive to media buyers. According to Locker, 83% of Comedy Central viewers spend 17.3 hours per week on the Internet. "The challenge is to focus the multiuser experience," he says. "Everyone is talking about broadband, but there are only 3.5 million consumer broadband homes.

"So would you spend 50% of your resources to build content for 10% of your audience? No. So you have to be careful how you manage your resources and how you make it a good experience for the majority of your audience."