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Broad City Shows How the Internet is Broadening the Entertainment Industry

· March 12, 2015

Tuesday night’s The Daily Show interview of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the creators and stars of the Comedy Central TV show Broad City, underscores the transformative role of the Internet in democratizing the entertainment industry.

Jacobson and Glazer launched Broad City in 2009 (when they were 25 and 21) as a web series on YouTube. The 25 episodes about the misadventures of two Jewish women in their 20s in New York City built a cult following and attracted the attention of Amy Poehler. Poehler helped migrate Broad City to the Comedy Central cable network (owned by media giant Viacom), and Poehler now serves as one of the show’s executive producers.

During Tuesday’s interview, Jon Stewart said that because of the Internet, “it feels like there’s more opportunity than there ever was for people” to break into comedy. “It’s been democratized to some extent.” Jacobson and Glazer agreed. Stewart then asked, “Do you think a show like this, voices like yours, unique and joyful, could have gotten on the air without the Web?” Jacobson and Glazer replied no.

Jacobson and Glazer described how they tried to break into comedy in a more traditional route. After this effort failed, they pursued the web series because they needed “something to send our parents to prove that we were, in fact, doing comedy.” The web series also provided them with the confidence to proceed: “we had to validate ourselves before other people did.”

The phenomenon of Internet platforms serving as launching pads for entertainment careers is becoming passé. The E! channel just announced that it will air a talk show hosted by YouTube personality Grace Helbig. Last month I wrote about how Fifty Shades of Grey began as a Twific (Twilight fan fiction) posted on fanfiction.net. And then there’s the granddaddy of Internet progeny, Justin Bieber, discovered on YouTube in 2007.

Indeed, the importance of the Internet to the vitality of the entertainment industry is so obvious that the industry acknowledges it in its copyright advocacy. A recent letter sponsored by the Copyright Alliance stated that members of the creative community “embrace the internet as a powerful democratizing force for our world and for creative industries.” The letter adds that “the internet has helped to advance creativity by removing barriers to entry for newcomers, fostering a dialogue with fans and audiences, and providing numerous additional ways to reach them. The internet holds great potential to expand creativity and free expression.”

I couldn’t have said this any better myself.

Competition

Some, if not all of society’s most useful innovations are the byproduct of competition. In fact, although it may sound counterintuitive, innovation often flourishes when an incumbent is threatened by a new entrant because the threat of losing users to the competition drives product improvement. The Internet and the products and companies it has enabled are no exception; companies need to constantly stay on their toes, as the next startup is ready to knock them down with a better product.

Innovation

New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.