AMC Networks has acquired a minority stake in Funny or Die that will see the entertainment company's IFC comedy channel create deeper ties with the online brand, it was announced Tuesday.
The deal, terms of which were not disclosed, expands on an existing relationship between IFC and FOD, which produced the network's Spoils of Babylon miniseries in 2014 and is behind the upcoming comedy series Brockmire. The companies plan to explore developing additional programs for linear and digital, airing FOD programming blocks on IFC and collaborations on ad sales.
In addition, IFC president Jennifer Caserta will join the board of FOD.
Caserta tells The Hollywood Reporter that it was in working with FOD on Spoils and Brockmire that the idea of a deeper relationship arose. "Through the process it was quite evident that we had found ourselves a partner that we not only admired but had gotten to know and grown such deep respect for," she says. "The comedic sensibilities were so perfectly aligned. So much about what the two companies did together had great overlap and similarities."
FOD's alignment with IFC comes two years after the online comedy network and production company founded by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy explored a sale under former CEO Dick Glover but ultimately remained independent. Since then, newly installed CEO Mike Farah, who was formerly head of production, has refocused the company on its core comedy strengths, laying off about 30 percent of the staff including the engineering team focused on app development.
Farah says IFC will help FOD continue on this new path. "We made a concerted decision to refocus our efforts on our comedy and working with creative people. We always have, but we had gotten a little bit away from our core mission and business," he says, noting that the minority stake allows FOD to continue to operate independently and explore multiple avenues of collaborating with AMC and IFC.
"It's really important for a company of our size that wants to be premium that we stay ahead of the curve and not follow trends," he adds. "It's important to have resources to do that and bet on people. We want to keep this startup mentality and move fast and set the conversation about what's going on in the world. This partnership with IFC gives us the best opportunity to accelerate those things with people we know and respect."
For AMC and IFC, the alignment with FOD - which has an audience of more than 60 million and is known for its viral online videos such as a recent episode of Between Two Ferns featuring Hillary Clinton - also opens up new digital avenues. It comes as traditional media companies have been making significant investments into the digital space, with Disney taking an about 10 percent stake in Vice Media and NBCUniversal investing in both BuzzFeed and Vox Media.
Caserta notes that the comedy landscape has changed with the rise of online humor brands like FOD. "It's something that all of us are embracing and doing more of as we look to the future," she says. "Certainly, we're looking at how they've been so successful and how we could make content together or take preexisting content into the areas they've built in digital."
IFC, known for such shows as Portlandia and Documentary Now!, has never been a huge ratings driver for AMC but has made a name for itself as a home for critically acclaimed comedians to bring passion projects. Caserta sees FOD's brand of relevant comedy as a natural fit. "We pride ourselves on shows that reflect the zeitgeist. That's what makes them buzzworthy," she says. "I really admire how well Funny or Die can capture any moment that's happening today and make it funny and relevant and get it out in the world right away. I'd love to see more of that on IFC."
Nine-year-old Funny Or Die counts Ferrell, McKay and Henchy's Gary Sanchez Productions and CAA as founders. Early on, the company raised money from Sequoia Capital and later sold a stake to Turner as part of a larger ad sales arrangement that has since ended.
Farah notes that the investment by AMC is not tied to a specific ad sales agreement or first-look deal, and he stresses that FOD will be able to pursue deals with other distributors as an independent production company. Its Billy on the Street, for instance, airs on truTV. Adds Farah: "That really meant a lot to us, that IFC believed in us and they were willing to invest and make the most of the opportunity but also allow us to keep doing what we're doing and keep our digital DNA."