It’s harder than ever to make money from online comedy, JibJab CEO Gregg Spiridellis says

When you’re competing against every funny video ever made, Spiridellis asks, “where’s the money that can afford the investment?”

It took five years for JibJab to become an overnight success. In 2004, when the digital entertainment company released a parody of the U.S. presidential election called “This Land,” it was on the verge of going out of business.

“We were at the point where we were like, ‘The internet’s never gonna be used for entertainment,’” JibJab CEO Gregg Spiridellis said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “We were about to give up, but we knew that election cycles were really big for comedy.”

So, Spiridellis and his brother/co-founder Evan decided to take “one more shot” — and it worked.

“We did 80 million views, back in 2004,” Spiridellis told Recode’s Kara Swisher and Chorus CEO Dick Costolo. “There was no YouTube. We needed to string together a global network of mirroring sites because we had a $ 400-a-month shared server in Texas … A week from thinking we may have to give up the business, we were on the couch with Jay Leno.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

It’s in large part because of YouTube that JibJab’s last-minute rescue wouldn’t happen today. Realizing they had captured “lightning in a bottle” with “This Land,” and recognizing the “tornado on the horizon” that was free-to-distribute online video, the Spiridellis brothers pivoted to personalized online greeting cards like Elf Yourself; today, the greeting cards have morphed into personalized apps for messaging platforms like iMessage, and JibJab has produced two seasons of a children’s show for Netflix, StoryBots.

On the new podcast, Spiridellis said a viral video like “This Land” — which had a shelf life of months as friends and family members traded it over emails — just couldn’t go viral to the same degree. Back in 2004, the options for entertainment online were so much fewer that striking gold with a funny video for the masses was at least somewhat attainable.

“I would bet — and I don’t have any proof of this — of everyone who saw a video in July of 2004, I bet we had 90-plus percent share,” Spiridellis said. “That just doesn’t happen anymore. Now we’re in a world where everything is so targeted.”

“I think ‘mass funny’ is, where’s the money that can afford the investment?” he added. “If you look at Jimmy Fallon or this great, super-well-prodcued video content, it’s really hard to compete against that, if you’re just looking at digital.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Recode – All

The Supreme Court could soon clear the way for states to impose new online sales taxes

The justices said they’d take up a fight involving Wayfair.

The Supreme Court is set to decide the future of online sales taxes.

The nation’s justices agreed on Friday to hear a battle between South Dakota and the e-commerce site Wayfair over the power that states should have to tax businesses that aren’t located within their borders yet sell goods to local residents.

States are already empowered to levy fees on businesses located within their states — to the detriment of consumers, perhaps — but a decades-old Supreme Court decision generally bars them from targeting sellers without a physical presence there.

For cash-strapped state and local governments, though, the power to impose online sales taxes on remote sellers might have helped them raise as much as $ 13 billion last year, according to one federal estimate. To that end, 36 states have joined South Dakota’s legal crusade, urging the Supreme Court to reverse its earlier ruling.

Arguments are likely to be heard later this spring.

The fight specifically stems from a law, passed by South Dakota in 2016, which levied a 4.5 percent tax on businesses that sell more than $ 100,000 in goods. That included Wayfair, which does not have a physical presence in the so-called Mount Rushmore state.

In challenging the South Dakota law, however, Wayfair and its allies — including companies like Overstock and NewEgg — pointed to the Supreme Court’s prohibition in 1992 while arguing that Congress is still debating states’ powers to levy online taxes on all sellers.

The country’s largest online retailer — Amazon — isn’t explicitly involved in Wayfair’s fight. And the company, which has warehouses scattered around the country, pays sales taxes in those localities. Yet it could still be affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling, given that its platform does include third-party sellers.

Recode – All

Huawei will sell Mate 10 Pro in the US online after AT&T calls off deal

Huawei was widely expected to announce its first flagship smartphone partnership with a major US carrier at CES this week, but AT&T pulled out of the deal — possibly for political reasons — at the eleventh hour. If you live in America and do really want the Mate 10 Pro, though, you will at least be able to buy it online this spring through Amazon, Best Buy, and other retailers.

Huawei is pricing the unlocked device at $ 799, which gets you a 6-inch 18:9 OLED screen, the AI-infused Kirin 970 processor, Android Oreo, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a Leica-branded 12-megapixel dual camera setup. It’s a capable phone, to be sure — just not one that’s going to be able to compete on level terms in the US market without any presence in…

Continue reading…

The Verge – All Posts

T-Mobile, Nokia, and Intel team up to bring 5G commercial radio system online

Along with the 4G LTE news announced by T-Mobile earlier today, there’s some 5G news to share. Nokia today announced that it teamed up with T-Mobile and Intel to bring a 28GHz 5G commercial radio system on air. The system was activated in the downtown corridor of Bellevue, Wash., the city where T-Mobile’s headquarters are located. Of course, once the site is online, they might as well do something with it, right? That’s exactly what the … [read full article]

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