October 15, 2015 / 6:23 PM / 2 years ago

NBCUniversal to test demand for comedy with streaming channel

NEW YORK, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Comcast Corp's NBCUniversal division plans to offer an Internet-based comedy channel featuring ad-free performances from Jimmy Fallon, Amy Poehler and others, testing viewers' willingness to pay for niche online content.

The $3.99 a month service called "Seeso" will launch in January, offering popular NBC comedy shows such as "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," monthly live streamed comedy concerts, a movie library and original content.

The service represents the latest bid by a traditional broadcaster to tap rising demand for "streaming" services from viewers who shun pricey television bundles.

Other networks like CBS Corp have offered online versions of their entire networks. NBCUniversal chose to serve up a genre-specific product, Executive Vice President Evan Shapiro said at an event in New York on Thursday.

The move is significant in that NBCUniversal's parent company Comcast is the nation's top cable operator and competes with services such as Netflix, Hulu and Dish Network Corp's Sling TV, which for $20 a month offers a slim bundle of channels, targeted at viewers, especially millennials, who consume video content online.

"The broader these services go, the harder it is to serve individual tastes ... when you do kids and horror and everything in between ... you've created the new version of the bundle, which is something that creates a big frustration, said Shapiro, who spearheaded the project. "You're paying for it all even though you are watching a small subset of that."

The service, which will be available on seeso.com, ioS and Android devices and streaming video boxes such as Roku, was meant to be complementary to pay-TV packages and other streaming services, Shapiro said on Thursday.

Seeso will also offer NBC hits such as "30 Rock" and Poehler's "Parks and Recreation," a catalog of 40 years of "Saturday Night Live," an exclusive library of the famed Monty Python comedy series and three to five new movies each month, NBCUniversal said in a statement.

To appeal to younger viewers who like short-form content, the service will offer clips of comedy shows. NBCUniversal has invested in original content providers from YouTube stars to Poehler, who will co-produce and co-host a show named after her improv and sketch comedy group "The Upright Citizens Brigade."

The service will be available through an invitation-only beta test in December. A free trial offering a limited portion of Seeso content will not require users to provide their credit card information, Shapiro said. (Reporting by Malathi Nayak; Editing by Christian Plumb)

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