Interview with Douglas Bennett, President of National Lampoon
Brandon: Some of our readers might only know National Lampoon because of Animal House. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and National Lampoon today?
Douglas Bennett: The National Lampoon name is thirty-six years old. It started out with the magazine in the 1970s and then moved on to Animal House and the vacation films among other projects in the eighties. The film today’s students would recognize the most would be National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. During the late nineties National Lampoon wanted to bring in additional resources and sought contributor investors. A friend of mine, Dan Laikin, agreed to invest in the company, but at this point the management had decided against getting contributor investors. Dan was really interested in the company and continued to buy shares on the open market until he was able to have more of a say in the company’s activates. Management was still reluctant to make any changes and was increasingly hostile to Dan. Finally in May of 2002 things calmed down. At the time I was President of Macmillin Publishing, and Dan had asked me if I were interested in becoming President of National Lampoon.
Brandon: How has National Lampoon changed as a company since you came onboard?
Bennett: The company went back to more content generation which resembled what the company was when it began. Some of the highlights in 2002-2003 were the purchase of Lorne Michael’s Burly Bear Network, which is now known as National Lampoon Network. At the time of purchase, Burly Bear Network only reached 325 college campuses, now National Lampoon Network reaches over 600 colleges. National Lampoon content can be seen 12 hours a week on NLN channels. It has become a great resource for our advertisers who are looking to reach the 18-24 year old market. We also offer many other advertising opportunities such as product placement in our shows, campus marketing, street teams, events such as the Dis-Orientation tour, pajama parties, and many others. The company has also moved into the direct to home video market, and book publishing with our partner Holtzbrinck publishing. We hope to return to radio in the spring of this year.
Brandon: Is there a particular advantage to releasing films on home video over releasing them in the theaters?
Bennett: We have 93% brand recognition, so with our brand being so strong we’d love to do more theatrical releases, but the reality is that there is a substantial risk involved in producing and marketing those releases. Since a lot of the theatrical market these days focus primarily on DVD marketing, it is more effective for us to release films direct to DVD.
Brandon: Can you tell us about the new TOGA! Broadband project?
Bennett: We currently air programming on the National Lampoon College Network, but as you know college students have odd viewing hours. Students also want to watch things when they want to watch, and not when a television network dictates. TOGA! Broadband allows us the opportunity to air our current content and make it available to students whenever they want to watch. Togatv.com also allows us to air more content that we have than we could on the television network because we don’t have to worry about time restrictions. TogaTV.com gives us the ability to air shorts of almost any length among other kinds of programming. TogaTv.com also allows us to reach any college student on any college campus, so we can now provide our rich media assets to students as well as advertisers looking to reach college students.
Brandon: For obvious reasons (The Brandon Show television and radio program) I’d like to ask if you take student submissions?
Bennett: We often run submission contests on our website and college television network. With Togatv.com we will be able to do more contests such as this. One of the exciting things that have come out of TOGA! Broadband.com was the Master of Comedy Class we did at the University of Austin. Out of that class came 3 ideas that are now 100% student produced programs that will be airing soon.
Brandon: Where do you see National Lampoon in five to ten years?
Bennett: I’d love to see a National Lampoon cable channel that can compete with the likes of Comedy Central. This would allow Togatv.com to be a subset of the national channel and allow us to build a strong content distribution network. I’d also like to get the company back into radio.
Brandon: What is your favorite national lampoon project?
Bennett: Right now I would have to say Togatv.com. It is always on, there is no time schedule for us to stick with, and we have many opportunities and options with what we can do with the channel in terms of content and distributions.
Brandon: What do you think is the significance of National Lampoon to today’s college students?
Bennett: We’ve found that many people 18-24, as well as people well into the forties, smile and chuckle when they hear the name National Lampoon. They remember something associated with seeing one of our films in the theater, something memorable about our many characters, they think of sophomoric humor that only we can provide.