Online audiences can’t get enough of comedy videos, according to a recent Pew Research poll, with the category representing the most popular category of video content viewed on the Web. Despite its popularity, discover and curation around comedy content has been sorely lacking compared to other genre’s.
“Unlike with music, which has discovery platforms like Pandora and Songza, when we wanted to laugh we had to visit 10 different sites to find just one video that we found funny,” says Laffster co-founder and CPO Eric Posen.
The Los Angeles startup set out earlier this year to build a technology that could solve this discovery problem and drive users to find what makes them laugh in a personalized way. The company took a page out of the Pandora playbook, aping the music discovery company’s team of music theorists by teaming up with comedy research academics at Dartmouth, University of Colorado, and elsewhere, as well as comedy writers at publications like The New Yorker to understand the anatomy of humor.
Believe it or not, there is actually a science to understanding what makes jokes funny, as illustrated by the inaugural Mind Science Foundation comedy symposium attended earlier this year by academic researchers from around the world. Whether a startup can translate this science into actionable algorithms is a question that remains to be answered.
Laffster is launching its first public product today in satirical political news app “Mock the Vote” for iOS. The app features up-to-the-minute commentary on political news, dividing content by its political leaning and allowing users to pick a side themselves, or stay neutral.
The idea for the app was born out of the realization that “nearly one-third of Americans 40 and younger see satirical sources like Colbert and Stewart taking the place of traditional news,” says co-founder and CEO Dan Altmann.
Mock the Vote will feature original and contributed content from New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff, TPM, Vox Media’s Callie Schweitzer, and Maker Studio’s Bad Lip Reading and Baracks Dubs. It will also include aggregated content from Buzzfeed, The Onion, Huffington Post, SNL, John Stewart, Colbert, and other sources.
Alongside today’s app launch, Laffster is announcing $750,000 in Seed funding from Greylock Partners, former LinkedIn VP Adam Nash, Maker Studios’ Chris Williams, StockTwits’ Howard Lindzon, Caplinked co-founder and COO Chris Grey, Vault.com and Zeel.com founder and current Lightspeed Ventures EIR Samer Hamadeh, and Jumio VP Sonny Sing. The company was a Winter 2012 graduate of Los Angeles’ MuckerLabs accelerator.
Additional strategic investors include The Paradigm Agency, which represents actors Neil Patrick Harris, Sharon Stone and Julie Bowen of Modern Family, as well as comedy management company Parallel Entertainment, that represents Jeff Foxworthy and Lisa Lampanelli. In addition to a small infusion of capital, expect the entertainment groups to prove valuable sources of content and talent partnerships for Laffster in the near future.
The Laffster team isn’t new to the industry, meaning they both know the problems the industry is facing and have an appreciation for good humor when they see it. CEO Altmann worked briefly at CollegeHumor parent company InterActive Corp and CTO and third co-founder Geoff Plitt performs regularly as a standup comedian.
The founders plan to deploy Laffster’s curation and discovery technology across a combination of its own in-house video sites and apps, as well as third-party partnerships, with “Mock the Vote” being an early example of the former. Laffster typically doesn’t pay for content, but instead shares advertising revenue with content owners based on the additional traffic its platform drives.
“Our whole thesis is that we can develop our technology so that it’s valuable enough that rights holders will allow us to optimize their content without having to pay for it,” says Altmann.