Laugh.ly, a startup that's something like a Pandora - but for comedy - is today launching into public beta. Via its website and forthcoming mobile application, users can stream stand-up sets and other routines from over 400 of today's leading comics, including big names like Kevin Hart, Louis CK, Amy Schumer, Lewis Black, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Jim Gaffigan, Bill Hicks, Aziz Ansari, Dave Attell, Daniel Tosh, and others.
The service is similar to Pandora as it allows for ad-supported, free listening, while also offering a premium tier ($3.99 per month) called "Front Row Seating." This will offer an ad-free experience and other exclusives.
While Pandora is a close analogy for what Laugh.ly is doing, the business itself is different in terms of how artists' rights are handled.
In the music industry, content deals involve complicated negotiations with record labels in many cases, but comedians are often in charge of their own rights, or they're owned by mom-and-pop shops. This makes it easier for a startup like Laugh.ly to gain access to stream many top comedians' recordings. Generally, Laugh.ly is splitting the revenue between the comedian or label 50/50, it says.
In addition, the startup is announcing a series of strategic partnerships with leading comedy producers that expand its access to content. These include Comedy Central, Comedy Dynamics, Uproar Entertainment, Laughing Hyena, Stand Up! Records, BSeen Media, and MyComedyStore.com.
As Laugh.ly's founder Dave Scott explained when the company took the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt recently as one of the Startup Battlefield Wild Card winners, comedy is one of people's top interests today. He noted that 91 million people "like" comedy on Facebook, and the top 50 comedians have over 700 million followers, combined, on social media.
However, as the industry moved away from physical records and CDs, people stopped buying comedy albums. "Now people stream albums, but the problem is that streaming hasn't caught up," he said. Not as many albums are available on streaming services, compared with how many used to be available in the physical disk era.
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Laugh.ly aims to address this problem by being the first streaming app built from the ground-up to focus on comedy and spoken word.
At launch, there are over 20,000 recordings available, giving Laugh.ly the most extensive collection of comedy available.
And while much of that content comes from notable names, it's also developing a platform for up-and-coming talent to get discovered. The company offers comedians self-publishing tools that let them upload and publish their own albums on its service.
Laugh.ly isn't just an aggregatation play, however - the company has developed tech IP, too. It has built something that's like Pandora’s Music Genome Project, but for the spoken word. That is, the platform transcribes every joke it processes, so it knows what the jokes are about, as well as their larger context. In the future, that will allow for features like a profanity toggle switch or ways to surface jokes by theme (e.g. a station for Trump jokes.)
For Scott, his interest in the genre is personal. A third-time founder, he previously ran an e-commerce site for entertainment merchandise called nextplanetover.com, and a marketing automation company, Marketfish, which worked with Disney, Direct TV, Norwegian Cruise Lines and others. But he later became a stand-up comedian himself, even taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, doing open mic nights, and attending San Francisco Comedy College.
This gave him first-hand insight into the industry's challenges.
Users of the Laugh.ly app can share and favorite routines and sets, and create playlists - much like you can with streaming music applications. Support for offline play is coming soon, the company tells us.
Laugh.ly will be publicly launched on iPhone and Android on August 10th, but TechCrunch readers can gain early access by signing up for the beta here: laughradio.com/techcrunch.
Update: An earlier version of this article said an Audible Company, Rooftop Comedy, was a Laugh.ly partner based on information Laugh.ly provided. This is not the case at this time and the reference has been removed.