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Comedy Central

Industrial Analysis

History and Ownership

Comedy Central was launched in 1990 after Time Warner merged Comedy Channel, which had been part of HBO, with Viacom's, MTV Network's "Ha!". The new channel was owned 50/50 by Time Warner and Viacom. In April of 2003 Viacom bought out Time Warner's (now AOL Time Warner) 50% stake in the channel for $1.225 billion.[1] Today, Comedy Central is owned and is a registered trademark of, Comedy Partners, a wholly-owned division of Viacom Inc.'s MTV Networks. Comedy Central is an essential part of MTV Netowork's growing cable portfolio that also includes MTV, Nickelodeon, VH-1 and TV Land. [2] The current President of the Channel, Michele Ganeless who has been in her role since 2007. Former President Doug Herzog, who now is the president of all of MTV Networks, said about Gainless, "She’s one of the key architects of Comedy Central and she’s one of the true leaders to take it into its next phase.” [3]

Comedy Central first showed up on American Televisions on April 1, 1991. Throughout the 90's the popularity of the channel grew and successful programming such as "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and "Short Attention Span Theater," became staples for the channel. 1993 saw the premier of "Out There," the first ever all-gay comedy television special. They furthered their trailblazing ways with original programming such as "Win Ben Stein's Money" a popular game show before the days of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." The 90's also saw the channel have success with acquired programming such as "Saturday Night Live" and "Whose Line Is It Anyway?". Though they received a smaller budget from Viacom and Time Warner than other channels, such as MTV and HBO, they consequently were given more freedom for programming. This allowed for the development of crude shows such as "South Park", which in 1998, received an 8.6 rating, the highest rated series episode in basic cable history at the time. [4] Comedy Central has become more mainstream in the 21st century with its use of political satire on hit talk shows: "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report"; and the cutting edge clip show "Tosh.o". Comedy Central has continued to keep up with market innovation debuting Comedy Central HD in January of 2009. [5] The channel has also extended itself to ten localized international markets, including Germany, Italy, the UK, and starting in 2011, Israel. [6]


Target Audiences

Comedy Central's targets audiences ranging from the ages of 18-49, highly concentrating on adults and men. Viewers of Comedy Central are not distracted easily, ranking Comedy Central among the top cable networks in key demos where the viewers are "paying full attention” to its programs. [7]  Comedy Central aired the two highest-rated original series on basic cable in the age group 18-34 among the men with South Park and The Sarah Silverman Project. (2008) [8]  Shows like South Park has gained an wider audience than it's intended target audience of 18-39 males; the age now ranges from 16-50, which males aged 18-24 still claiming top spot.[9]  Though South Park carries a parental guidance rating of TV-MA for mature audiences 17 and up, there are censored episodes which are rated TV-14 to reach the younger teens. 

Advertising & Promotion

With constant promotions and reminders of upcoming shows, Comedy Central is able to reach viewers through the popular social networkings of Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Comedy Central has expanded to the mobile web, offering accessibility to the Website, providing stand-ups and jokes along with South Park exclusives all on your mobile phone.  Besides reaching out through the mobile web, Comedy Central has also taken mobile applications under their belt. Comedy Central was using a SMS/text-based delivery jokes service before they developed an iPhone app that allows users to subscribe to their Joke of the Day service through the downloadable application. 

Comedy Central has pushed out a Daily Show widget that can be posted to Facebook, MySpace, blogs and anywhere else on the Web. This widget carries a minute-long recap of the previous night's show, with the idea in mind that it'll spread the clips throughout the Internet and not force users to have to go to With the use of promotional time during The Daily Show to advertise, Comedy Central hopes to gain more audiences through these 60-second clips. [10]

Comedy Central uses a variety of platforms including TV, print online, and mobile to get the word out. Back in 2005, Comedy Central was promoting a new show 'Stella,' through the uses of "influencer" mailings from Cornerstone Marketing (New York), street teams, at clubs and bars, and among other places. Comedy Central also gave Verizon Wireless members preview clips of the show and ran text-based tune-in alerts for Sprint PCS users. Glenn Ginsburg, formal VP of interactive ad sales, said, "Working cross-platform maximizes the reach for an audience, especially with Stella. Hopefully, this will generate a lot of interest." [11]


Comedy Central, known as the only all-comedy network, is the #1 provider of surprising, laugh-out-loud programming. Comedy Central "connects with a young adult audience thirsting for fearless, outrageous originals with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, South Park, The Colbert Report....along with stand-up specials and can't-miss events like the annual Comedy Central Roast." [12] Comedy Central's original programs help with the reinventing of classic genres such as news, animation, and comedy variety.  Along with Comedy Central's airing of their blockbuster Roasts and annual Last Laugh, the network also offers original specials and stunt programming that viewers won’t find anywhere else.

Comedy Central uses paid search to build brand association around its prize program assets. It buys Google ads for searches for shows such as South Park. Comedy Central is paying for ‘association.’ Besides trying to gain viewers of the show, they are trying to establish loyalty around the web-based services that relate to the shows. Claudia Setini-Samuels, head of branding and online "It’s unusual for a channel to do this but it makes sense. We’re tracking what’s being searched for based around comedy and that will have a direct influence on our content – the site must be based on what people are looking for right now."


In 2007, Comedy Central began a partnership with American Greetings to prove a new line of greeting cards starring the characters of South Park.  This deal also allowed for future Comedy Central show based cards.  American Greetings' licensing chief, Michael Brown said, "Comedy Central is a destination for laughs for millions of people every day, and we're proud to be bringing the humor from some of the network's most recognizable shows to life in a new way."  An American Greetings research project had spent 6 months looking at the differences between men and women on what is funny with the Comedy Central cards are being created with men in mind. [13]

Comedy Central has partnered with live entertainment firms such as Live Nation. The partnership includes the launch of "Comedy Central's House of Comedy Live from House of Blues," in House of Blues venues nationwide. Live Nation has said the cooperations have drawn more than 1 million fans to Comedy Central-branded tours. And Senior VP of Comedy Central Live Entertainment, Mitch Fried, said "With Live Nation and its House of Blues venues, we have found the perfect companions to expand our thriving touring business and grow the Comedy Central brand outwards and off channel." As a part of the deal, Comedy Central will be integrated throughout the venues and retail shops of the House of Blues, including that of on and off stage, and also in show marketing. Comedy Central, likewise, will give advertisers the opportunity to become official sponsors of the comedic series. [14]

Hoping to bring the laughter overseas to USA's military troops, Comedy Central has partnered with the USO (United Service Organizations) to create "PVT Jokes."  Comedy kits, including Comedy Central DVD titles, will be reached out to more than 200 forward operating bases and U.S. military hospitals both at home and overseas.  This is the second partnership between Comedy Central and USO which had formally brought "The Colbert Report" to Iraq on a USO tour (2009: "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando). [15]

Comedy Central is now in partnership with Don Mischer Productions to revive the once annual “American Comedy Awards," last taken place in 2001.  It will honor and reward the year's best in film, television, digital shorts and performance.  The "American Comedy Awards" are scheduled to premiere in 2010 and will premiere simultaneously across all of MTV Networks Entertainment Group channels including the Comedy Central network, Spike TV and TV Land. 

Signature Programing and General Trends

Current Programming

The Daily Show (1996-)

premiered in the summer of 1996 and was initially hosted by Craig Kilbourn. In 1999 Jon Stewart who had previously worked at MTV news took over as the show's anchor. The Show airs Monday through Thursday at 11pm. Episodes are reaired several times during the week during daytime. Even though the show is dubbed "fake news" it has been recognized as an influential political commentary. [16] During the period of the 2008 presidential election the show averaged about 2 million viewers every night, a level the show has since then maintained. The show fares particularly well with male audiences from 18-34. [17] [18] The show is currently renewed through June 2013.[19]  The show's structure is a mixture of newscast and late night talkshow. Stewart discusses current political events and features "mock" political commentators as well as real pundits. The show also features guests outside the political arena such as actors and musicians. [20] The show has garned broad critical acclaim and has won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series every year since 2003, for a total of seven wins. [21]

The Colbert Report (2005-)

premiered in the fall of 2005. It is a spin-off from The Daily Show, where Stephen Colbert had previously contributed as a news correspondant. Colbert's on-screen persona is widely seen as a parody right-wing commentator Bill O'Reilly. Subsequently, The Colbert Report is mocking his Show "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News. [22] It airs Monday through Thursday at 11.30 pm following The Daily Show and usually retains most of its lead-in audience. Reruns are several times a day. Similar to Jon Stewart, Colbert fares particularly well with male audiences in the 18-34 demographic. Currently the show averages about 1.5 million viewers per night. [23]  The Colbert Report has been renewed through December 2012. [24]

South Park (1997-)

premiered in the summer of 1997 and is Comedy Central's longest-running and highest-rated scripted show. The show is currently airing its 14th Season and airs everyday of the week in various timeslots, only during prime time and nighttime though. So far more than 200 episodes have been produced. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the animated series is set in the fictional town of South Park. The show features various character but mostly revolves around a group of young boys. South Park pokes fun at controversial topics, mocks celebrities and is known for its profane humour. It was an instant success and drew record numbers during its first three seasons. As buzz died done, ratings have somewhat eroded but the show continues to attract an average audience of over 3 million viewers. The Show has won four Emmys for Outstanding Animated Series.[25] In 1999 a feature film was released: South Park: Longer, Bigger & Uncut, which grossed more than 80 million Dollars. [26]

Other notable Shows and Programing

Comedy Central produced several shows of commercial and cultural significance throughout the 2000s. Chapelle's Show (2003-2006) was a critical and ratings success alike but ended when the show's star Dave Chapelle exited despite being renewed for a third season. [27] Comedienne Sarah Silverman brought The Sarah Silverman Program (2007-2010) to Comedy central which enjoyed considerable success and earned her an Emmy nomination in 2009. [28] Recently Daniel Tosh has emerged as one of the networks most successful new stars. His show Tosh.O (2009-) draws up to 3 million viewers per episode. [29]

As most Cable networks do, Comedy Central rebroadcasts many of its programs throughout the week. The network also airs specials of stand-up comedians and feature films.

General Trends

Since its launch Comedy Central has established itself as a popular destination for young male audiences in the 18-34 demographic. Most of their shows rely less on concept but rather the personalities of their stars. These Stars such as Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert have branched into other lucrative venues (books, high-profile appearences on other networks) and by that have helped to raise Comedy Centrals profile. Comedy Central has catered to the internet affinity of its young male audience by offering a lot of content such as clips and even full episodes on their website before this practice was as common as it now is.[30]

Textual Analysis

The Daily Show (1996-Present)

The Daily Show is a late-night program that is produced by and aired on the Comedy Central cable network.  The Daily Show airs Mondays through Thursdays at 11pm, with a half-hour format combining the elements of late-night talk shows and traditional newscast. The show is filmed live-to-tape in front of a live audience. The show begins with host/anchor Jon Stewart commenting on current political developments. He usually often talks to faux commentators and pundits. Following the news portion, Stewart usually welcomes guests, some of which are actual journalists, analysts or politicians (most recently President Obama) but also entertainers and celebrities. The program frequently uses actual clips and news footage and satirically comments on or mocks them. The show has been a launching pad for faux pundit Stephen Colbert and has elevated anchor Jon Stewart's career beyond the show's success. He hosted the Academy Awards in 2006 and has published two non-fiction books on politics, America (The Book) and Earth (The Book).

The Daily Show is commonly referred to as "fake news," but has also been noted for being astutely political and informative.   The show offers an insightful take on the hypocrisy of politicians on both sides of the political spectrum, as well as attacking fallacies and mistruths promoted by the news media. The Daily Show is first and foremost a comedy show, not a newscast, but often the lines are blurred. Stewart and his correspondents use satire to expose journalists and politicians for their failure to inform and serve the public. The comedic approach often lessens the severity of the attacks launched on the show. Humor also allows Stewart to provide a counterbalance to the traditional news reporter. The Daily Show holds the traditional broadcast media accountable in four ways: pointing our falsehoods, noting inconsistencies, highlighting the trivial and absurd and noting where traditional journalistic routines result in bias. [31].

Males between the ages of 18 and 34 make up the largest chunk of viewers for The Daily Show . This correlates with what Comedy Centrals aims for as its target audience and allows them to promote their other programs during the show. On the whole, however, the program attracts viewers from a wider spread demographic. The common thread between the viewers is an interest in politics and the desire for a program that doesn't follow the usual conventions of network news. The Daily Show viewership is often seen as highly intellectual and informed. In fact, A Pew Research Study from 2007 found that viewers of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report had the highest knowledge of national and international affairs relative to viewers of other newscasts. [32].  During the last week of October 2010, The Daily Show for the first time finished as the highest-rated late-night program in the key demographic 18-49, averaging 1.3 million viewers. This made the “Daily Show” the first program that wasn’t “The Tonight Show” or“The Late Show with David Letterman” to do so since at least 2000. The feat can be attributed in large part to President Obama's recent appearance on the program and the media attention surrounding Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity".[33].

The Daily Show fits in perfectly with what Comedy Central is trying to portray as a cable network, all comedy, all the time.  Being a "fake news" program, the show constantly covers a variety of topics and with those topics, Stewart criticizes the doings of public figures in a over-the-top satiric format to get the jokes/punchlines out.  People who watch The Daily Show feels as though they are being well-informed about what's going on in society and they would rather watch news portrayed in a humorus and satiric format than turning into regular news programs that presents the same news in a serious tone.  The show speaks to Americans in a way that we just simply don't want dry cut news anymore; though The Daily Show functions as a somewhat relaxed "news" source, the show gets people to think critically about those portrayed.

In 2005, Comedy Central launched The Colbert Report, a spin-off show from The Daily Show. The addition of The Colbert Report to the cable's lineup is an attempt by Comedy Central to update and redo its late-night schedule hoping to increase its viewership in the youth.  AsThe Daily Show is competing with other late-night shows on the networks, the airing of The Colbert Report right after The Daily Show would allow Comedy Central to keep the viewership during the 11-midnight block. During this time slot, most of the viewers who are still up are not looking for a serious program this late in the night; they are looking for something light and humorous to relax to and Comedy Central takes advantage of this time slot to provide viewers with The Daily Show.  And with this setup and of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, with it's similarity in formats, Comedy Central is able to keep the viewers through both shows as they are able to balance each other out.  While The Daily Show "spoofs" the headlines of that day along with those anchors and reporters who deliver them, The Colbert Show will mock those who have become household names with interviews and analyses.What viewers don't get from one show, the other can make up for it.[34]  With Stephen Colbert as a previous member of The Daily Show crew, Comedy Central is able to carry the familiarity of his character to lead into a new show.  And when The Colbert Report was being developed, Comedy Central had considered having The Daily Show end with Stewart sharing a split-screen with Mr. Colbert, mocking the "throw" or "toss" technique used in the news industry.  This would have the effect that The Daily Show will carry on another half hour, drawing and keeping the audience in with the show.  The Daily Show has done this with The Colbert Report and this relationship between the two shows have allowed Comedy Central to expand with its collaboration of recent election coverage (Comedy Central's Indecision) and the "Rally to Restore Sanity."

South Park (1997-Present)

South Park is half-hour animated comedy produced in-house by Comedy Central. The show was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone based on two animated shorts from 1992 and 1995. Comedy Central approached them with the idea of turning these shorts into a series for the network. The show revolves around a group of kids named Stan, Eric, Kyle and Kenny who live in the small town of South Park, Colorado. The show pokes fun at small town life and values and heavily trails on popular culture. Celebrities and cultural phenomenons are often the back end of jokes. This has often led to controversies which The show references this through The Terence and Philip Show, a show within the show, which the main characters watch, providing self-reflective satire. South Park is computer animated, with very simplistic animations, often creating a paper cut look which adds to the primitive sense of humor the show tries to invoke and has given the programming a unique look. 

South Park's target audience is aligned with the target audience for the rest of Comedy Central's programming. Once again, 18-34 year old males make up the bulk of the viewership. The show has achieved incredible success since its inception through its unique blend of dark humor and a "take no prisoners" brand of satire. Each episode of South Park opens with the disclaimer that, "All characters and events in this show—even those based on real people—are entirely fictional. All celebrity voices are impersonated.....poorly. The following program contains coarse language and due to its content it should not be viewed by anyone"[35] Establishing such a warning at the start of each program allows the writers to constantly push the boundaries of what is acceptable to make fun of on television. This has frequently gotten the show in trouble, sparking famous controversies such as the "Muhammed" controversy which sparked international backlash for the shows depiction of the Islamic prophet dressed in a bear suit [36]

The use of pop culture references in South Park are able to draw in different viewers for each episode.  With each episode taking on a different topic, fans of said topic are most likely to tune in to the show to enjoy some humorous criticism.  South Park provided a different approach to animated comedy, different from that of The Simpsons
Soon viewers were turning to "South Park" for the same kind of satiric take on current events that they got from Jay Leno's monologue or "The Daily Show's" fake newscasts. In "Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants," the boys are captured by al Qaeda in post-9/11 Afghanistan. In "Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow," Cartman and Stan accidentally destroy "South Park's" biggest beaver dam, causing a Katrina-like flood. In "The Passion of the Jew," Cartman tries to rid "South Park" of Jews after seeing "The Passion of the Christ." [37] Formerly rebellious adults may be the biggest fans of South Park, which is predicated on the hope that it continues to offend someone, somewhere. Really to savor the show, it still helps to imagine joyless souls -- repressive parents or balky advertisers, stupefied by political correctness or Christian moralism -- tsk-tsk-ing in a distant living room. 

South Park airs on Wednesday nights at 10pm.  Comedy Central had used this already established and well hit show as a lead in for a new animated series, Ugly Americans, that premiered back in March of 2010.  Before South Park made its premiere on Comedy Central in 1997, the cable channel was failing at being funny showing reruns of The Benny Hill Show and Absolutely Fabulous.  South Park has been great lead in show since its debut to Comedy Central.  South Park had given shows like The Daily Show great jumps in the ratings. Comedy Central's then president (1997), Doug Herzog, had said, "We had already been ticking up. This show is kind of like adding jet fuel. [38] South Park'sairing on Wednesday nights could draw in viewers who have just finished tuning into ABC's comedy night with its hit shows, Modern Familyand Cougar Town. 


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