Want comedy? Say hello to Seeso, NBC’s streaming video service to debut Jan. 7

Comedian Dan Harmon, left, and Evan Shapiro of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises in October.
(Jemal Countess / Getty Images)

When online video consumers are asked what they want most from a streaming video service these days, Evan Shapiro, executive vice president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, says it’s a good laugh.

“On almost any night of the week, people are going to living rooms and bowling alleys to see stand-up comics,” Shapiro said. “It’s a reflection of the time that we’re living in. Right now comedy is more necessary than it’s ever been. “

That’s why Shapiro’s division chose to go with the all-comedy channel Seeso for its first online subscription channel.

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NBCUniversal announced Wednesday that the over-the-top service — which can be used on mobile devices, laptops, tablets and Internet-connected TVs — will launch Jan. 7. The move represents a play to reach younger viewers who are not yet ready to commit to a cable service.


Seeso also is among the first niche online channels launched by a traditional media company and may signal the beginning of a new multichannel universe, similar to the early days of cable.

Right now comedy is more necessary than it’s ever been.

— Evan Shapiro, executive vice president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises

For $3.99 a month, Seeso subscribers will have unlimited access to uncensored, commercial-free comedy programs and clips (viewers can sample for free until the official launch). The service is promising at least 20 original series a year, including a sketch and stand-up show using regulars from the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy club, a bizarre comedy featuring “Community” creator Dan Harmon, and an animated program based on the dark Web comic Cyanide and Happiness.

The site will have 2,000 hours of original content at launch, including stand-up comedy specials shot at clubs and short performance clips.

For users whose comedic taste runs old school, there are remastered episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The site will also mine NBC’s sitcom library and be a streaming platform for its late-night talk shows and “Saturday Night Live.”

Shapiro, a former chief for the cable networks Sundance Channel and IFC, knows that building yet another video brand name for consumers in the crowded digital universe is daunting. But after taking in the responses from 11,000 consumers over the last year in online surveys about their streaming video viewing habits, Shapiro believes Seeso will satisfy their appetites and expectations.

“Comedy was, by a Secretariat’s length, the most important genre that people wanted every day, every week,” Shapiro said. “We asked them about how often do you expect a video service to be refreshed? The more you refresh it the happier they are. What became very evident early and often is that these services are going to be driven entirely by original content. It’s why we’re putting fresh stuff up every day and every week.”

Series will have their episodes released on a weekly basis to encourage users to check in regularly instead of releasing them all at once.

Once a user logs onto Seeso, the service automatically plays a program — addressing yet another grievance in the era of endless viewing choices.

“Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are great services if you’re in the middle of a binge,” he said. “But if you’re leaning back on a Saturday night after a beer — or if you’re in Colorado, after a bong hit — and looking for something to watch, these services become work. Often you can finish a search unsatisfied.”

Seeso is clearly a play by NBCUniversal to pick up some viewers in the 18-to-24 age group who have subscribed to cable and spend more time with streaming video instead of watching conventional TV.

“That sitcom they watched last year on TV? They probably streamed it this year,” noted a recent Nielsen report, which cited a 14% year-over-year decline in TV viewing time among the age group in the second quarter of 2015.