After ten years creating online comedy content geared toward making frat boys chuckle from their laptops, CollegeHumor co-creator and editor in chief Ricky Van Veen is graduating to a new venture at Barry Diller’s IAC. By the end of this year, he’ll transition into a position as chief executive of Notional, a CollegeHumor spinoff production company that will create programming for the Web–and traditional TV–for all demographics, even (gulp!) girls.
“I will definitely have to train my brain to get out of this little rubric it has been in for awhile,” Mr. Van Veen, 28, told the Observer in an interview this morning. He had a recent discussion with story creator Cleve Keller (who worked on Disney shows like “Doug” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) about an idea for a wedding show. “It was funny because I haven’t talked about any wedding Web programming, you know, ever, so it was very refreshing.”
Figuring out how to wrap up all that viral video hit magic from, say, a Minnesota wedding party jamming to a Chris Brown song, and translating it into TV show buzz will be Mr. Van Veen’s big challenge.
“If you think about the media clutter right now, there’s so many television stations, there’s so much programming that I think bringing an Internet mentality to other mediums like TV would be very beneficial,” Mr. Van Veen said. “On the Web you have to sum up what your piece of content is in one link or nobody is going to watch it. That’s the same thing I’ve been hearing from TV executives–is we need a program that you can have on the side of a bus and someone can watch it go by and get what the show is and want to watch it.”
He’ll specialize in unscripted, “zeitgeist-y, buzzy content” and figure out ways to “bridge” TV and content on the Web–not just splice up a TV show into clips and slap them on a Web site. “We’ve been talking about shows where the Internet makes the show better,” Mr. Van Veen said. He has been discussing the project with Mr. Diller for the past year and will report to him directly.
He’ll get some help from six other Notional team members, including a president of television, Dave Noll. Mr. Noll’s production company City Lights Media generated reality programming like Food Network’s “Chopped” and dating advice show “Wingman” for Fine Living Network. In 2001, Mr. Van Veen and Mr. Noll worked together on a college TV network show called “Get $tupid.” “The ‘S’ in ‘Stupid’ was a dollar sign, so you get how advanced it is,” Mr. Van Veen said. “We’d go around campus and dare people to do things; I dare you to streak the quad, I dare you to eat a cigarette butt, you know, pour water over this guy’s head as he walks through the dorm door.” Typical, clip-y CollegeHumor type stuff.
But Mr. Van Veen is hoping to move beyond YouTube-friendly jokes for the dorm-dwelling set. The Notional team already started pre-production on a new project yesterday, on July 27, but Mr. Van Veen wouldn’t divulge any details about its premise just yet.
“I think it’s easy to get caught up in this Web 2.0 world where, you know, [people's say] ‘Television is dead, the Internet is so much better than television,” Mr. Van Veen said. “But television is great. ‘Lost’ is great. ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ is great.” (Ricky Van Veen name-dropping ‘Grey’s Anatomy’? He really is thinking about the ladies, ladies).
“When people tell you Web content is better than television content, they probably don’t mean that, they probably enjoy the format of the Web better than the format of TV,” he added.
But TV is still struggling with the pull of the Internet –and figuring out how to grab the same kind of excitement from millions of views of a CollegeHumor clip made on a skeleton budget and bring that buzz into the living room (and beyond). Perhaps Mr. Van Veen and recent NBC-to-IAC transplant Ben Silverman should do lunch.