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Q&A

How Frat Jokes Led to YouTube—and then to Hollywood

The evolution of CollegeHumor from a site Ricky Van Veen started with his friends to host funny pictures and video clips into a digitally-minded studio that was acquired by IAC/InterActive Corp in 2006 has in many ways set the template for the entire online video movement.

You can see traces of it in YouTube’s trajectory from a repository of user generated clips to a place that produces and promotes mainstream stars. Or in Maker Studios’ path from a community of semi-pro content creators to a company Disney felt was worth paying up to a billion dollars for.

Not long after CollegeHumor made the switch from exclusively user-generated content to producing originals, Mr Van Veen chose to place the videos on YouTube. It was a gamble, considering the revenue from ads on CollegeHumor’s own website was already enough to make the company profitable. Was it a mistake to try for more traffic through a platform CollegeHumor didn’t own and had to split revenue with?

In an interview with The Information, Mr. Van Veen talked about the board meeting when the company made that decision and the larger influence online video has had on traditional media. He also posited his theory that the ALS Ice Bucket challenge has been the coming out moment for Facebook’s News Feed video. An edited transcript of the conversation is below.

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It was one of those things that was completely ignored by traditional media, so when people heard about the Amazon acquisition they were laughing at the idea of watching people play video games. I think Twitch is indicative of a consumer behavior that people who live in the traditional media world, or even the new media world, didn’t know was happening. But video games are no longer a niche activity and watching video games is just as fun as watching football. Shouldn’t be surprising at all.

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