By: Claudia Kienzle
Culver City, CA
While today’s network TV comedy shows tend to follow very familiar, predictable formats, JASH is something new. JASH is an alternative comedy Web network that gives comedians collaborative freedom to create whatever content they feel is funny and entertaining to their online viewers.
Delivering a very free-form experience, JASH shows are unconstrained by timeslots or network censorship. It’s also not just a single show but rather a hub of related online comedy genres accessible from JASH.com. These include sketch comedy on the main JASH channel, talk shows on Talk Show Labs (formerly VPN), and short films and series on a channel called Buh.
The comedy is a synthesis of creativity by JASH’s comedic partners: Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Reggie Watts and Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim.
Popular and accomplished in their own right, these comedians attract followers to their own individual channels or sites, which JASH links to. And since they often feature material they’ve helped create for JASH, this in turn introduces their followers to JASH and helps to build that audience.
JASH’s unconventional production structure is a testament to how much creative freedom YouTube and the other online platforms give them. JASH’s Head of Live Production Brent Butler says that, “While many of our comedians and production staff have worked on hit network TV shows, they’re choosing to work on this fledgling online comedy venue because of the new and exciting creative opportunities it poses.”
Compared to a hit network TV comedy show that draws 10’s of millions of viewers nationwide when it airs, JASH shows might only draw hundreds of thousands of viewers. But the production overhead is also significantly lower thanks to powerful, compact, affordable gear, including Sony FS100 cameras with Metabones Canon EF lens adapters and Canon lenses, and the NewTek TriCaster 8000 production switcher.
The affordability of its production studio equipment is one of the enabling factors giving JASH principals the freedom and space to experiment with new comedic genres.
JASH’s large Culver City, CA studio is configured with three adjacent physical sets illuminated by a lighting grid and C-stand supported lighting and cooled by industrial AC. The four Sony FS100 cameras are mounted on tripods and rolled from one set to the other as needed for production. The cameras feed 1080P HD signals into an Atmos converter that converts HDMI to SDI, and that SDI signal feeds directly into the TriCaster’s camera inputs.
All of the studio audio signals run through an audio mixer, which mixes them down to a single audio signal that feeds the audio input of the TriCaster. The exact audio mixer model varies depending upon which freelance audio technician they hire. While the TriCaster is located in the control room, the audio mixing is actually handled in the studio so that sound techs can easily adjust and manage microphones and other on-set audio sources.
Since TriCaster is an integrated HD switcher that is packed with production tools, it allows the very lean JASH crew—typically 5 people—to produce a broadcast quality HD video show. NewTek’s Live Text is the sole live graphics system, and it’s primarily used for lower third supers.
TriCaster is used to switch all of the cameras as well as to manage the graphics, audio and other production sources, from a single user interface. The switcher also handles several tasks at once including delivery of the live 720P HD program stream directly to YouTube. It also simultaneously records a line cut of the show for subsequent viewing on demand. And lastly, it iso-records all of the separate camera feeds so that these assets can be archived.
For local remotes, they pack up the TriCaster into a pelican case and load it onto a van, along with other production equipment, to shoot and stream live from local venues, such as area comedy clubs. But they’ve also packed the gear onto planes and flown to various high-profile events. For example, they’ve produced live streams from the Sundance Festival in Utah and South by Southwest in Texas.
One of the best examples of how JASH is breaking down barriers is Getting Doug with High, a talk show (whose name is deliberately befuddling) that actually “airs” on the JASH channel: YouTube/Doug Benson.
Hosted by Comedian Doug Benson, the show looks like a conventional talk show until you realize that both the host and celebrity guest are casually rolling joints, filling bongs and smoking pot while they joke and converse about a wide range of topics. This show—which network television would be hesitant to run—intends to dispel the myth that marijuana is a stupefying drug that reduces people to blithering idiots.
If this or any JASH show or video runs long, no problem, the cameras can keep rolling. “The lack of time constraints is both a blessing and a curse,” Butler said. “What we produce can be of any length, but our audience expects the material to be entertaining and constructive throughout. As long as the show or scene is funny enough to hold their interest, then we give our comedians unfettered creative freedom.”
On the JASH channel proper, there are many video clips of the JASH stars—Sarah, Reggie, Michael, Tim & Eric—just being funny off the cuff.
Like the time that Eric argued with the other four that he thought their new JASH logo was stupid and would never catch on. He questioned why they changed their original logo—which had the word JASH inside a circle to a new one where the word JASH was inside a double lined circle—a virtually imperceptible change.
While Eric wanted to quit over this ludicrous argument, and referred to the other four as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, they countered that the logo was fine and majority rules. In the middle of the video, Sarah Silverman says in a profound tone, “Andy Warhol once said, ‘Why make one circle when you can make two circles?’ I’m pretty sure he said that. What’s better than one circle? Two circles.”
Despite the avant-garde format filled with silly antics and hilarious bits, there’s a serious business undercurrent at JASH. They actively analyze online viewer metrics, including how many viewers joined at any given time, what they watched, how long they stayed, when they dropped off, when they came back, and more.
These analytics are studied to determine what’s working so they can produce more of that. But by the same token, Butler said, “JASH was founded to produce content that is funny, and that our comedians think is funny. So we won’t hesitate to put content out there that we believe in, even at the risk that people out there might not agree.”
Like any big-time TV network or show, JASH has a sales team dedicated to diligently selling advertising time based on their compelling audience metrics and demographics, including those coveted young mobile viewers that are best reached via online platforms.
“We were founded with seed money from the YouTube Content Initiative in 2012. That’s how we got off the ground,” Butler explains. “But we’ve since become capable of standing on our own by virtue of our growing advertising revenue and branded content. While advertisers were initially skittish about planting their ads around a show like Getting Doug with High, a few brave companies, like HBO and Loot crate [geek, gaming, and pop culture gear], eventually warmed to the idea when they saw the numbers the show was pulling in.”
There are some heavy hitters behind JASH, including Doug DeLuca, Daniel Kellison and Mickey Meyer who together formed HaChaCha, the production entity that launched JASH in 2012. Meyer, a Forbes 30 under 30, is often referred to as the Don Draper of the Internet and regarded as someone skilled at developing new media experiences like JASH.
Doug DeLuca and Daniel Kellison are long-time executive producers with Jimmy Kimmel Live and many of the JASH crew worked with them at the popular late night comedy show. While HaChaCha keeps a very low profile, their combined talent and network TV credits have been instrumental in nurturing the high-quality content that’s now bridging the gap between the TV and Internet comedy experience.
“Working on a show like Jimmy Kimmel Live is great because you know you have a hit and as long as the show continues, and you stay with it, you’ll have a job,” Butler said. “This doesn’t have that kind of security, but it’s an opportunity to try something new, without network execs giving us notes about what we should or shouldn’t do.”
And JASH Segment Producer Brett Kushner added, “For a lot of us, it was well worth the risk to present original niche content and connect with Internet and social media users in a way that was previously impossible. The interaction with our viewers through their social media posts and chat room comments is also a cool part of this.”
Besides the comedic talent and the distribution opportunity the Internet presents, the NewTek TriCaster also plays a critical role in presenting JASH affordably with the highest production standards.
Because of these cost efficiencies, Kushner says, “JASH can be viable even with just a strong loyal core audience because our overhead is so much lower than traditional TV production costs. We’re also able to have many different shows in production every week. So ultimately, there’s no limit to our potential.”
“As digital media savvy viewers search for content to watch on their gadgets,” Kushner said, “We hope more and more of them will find and like us, and that we’ll continue to expand our reach.”
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