Comedy Commands Online Clout

Media companies and investors are getting serious about comedy on the Web.

The launch of a new comedy channel by MySpace on Tuesday is the latest sign that humor-driven sites are fast becoming prized Web 2.0 properties. Sites such as JibJab, The Onion, and CollegeHumor.com have either recently landed venture funding or are reported to be acquisition targets of big media outfits.

For MySpace, its new comedy section is the latest in a series of channels it has rolled out recently that focus on topics such as movies, music, blogs, and books. The goal is to create more controlled and advertising-friendly areas on MySpace apart from the site's mass of user-generated content.

Ross Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, said at an investor conference earlier this year that MySpace is looking to attract more brand name advertisers.

Sierra Mist will be the main sponsor on MySpace Comedy, which will serve as an online community for stand-up comics and comedy fans. More than 7,500 comedians are already using the site to post tour dates and share audio and video clips, according to the company. Through a partnership with The Improv comedy club chain, MySpace members will also have access to behind-the-scenes club footage, editorial content, and online contests.

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JibJab Media is another comedy site gaining the attention of investors and advertisers. Best known for its animated presidential election satires, JibJab last month received an undisclosed amount of venture financing from Polaris Venture Partners. "It's pretty self-evident that people like to laugh, and the Internet is another place they want to laugh," said Jon Flint, managing partner at Polaris. The firm is also an investor in broadband entertainment network Heavy.com, which has its own comedy channel featuring well-known stand-up comedians.

Flint said that JibJab would add new comedy channels in the coming months that would appeal to a broad demographic ranging in age from 18 to 50. JibJab recently soft-launched Jokebox, its own community area for members to share humorous videos and jokes. The section is sponsored by Budweiser, and Flint said future comedy channels would also be ad-supported.

Meanwhile, big media players may be angling for their share of online laughs. Viacom may be seeking to buy satirical news site The Onion, according to an unconfirmed reports Tuesday in Variety and popular blog Huffington Post. The report surmised that The Onion would complement Viacom's Comedy Central network. A spokesman for Viacom's MTV Networks declined to comment on the report.

Likewise, a spokesperson for InterActiveCorp wouldn't comment on a report this week on gossip blog Gawker that the company is close to making a major investment in CollegeHumor.com. that values the site at $20 to $30 million.

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