Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud is making a big podcast push. Its President & COO Thai Randolph tells us why.

Plus: how they find talent, a request for a startup and Kevin Hart's crazy work ethic.


January 27, 2021

Comedy dominates podcasting. 

According to a 2020 Stitcher report, the only genre with more total listening hours than comedy is true crime (which, frankly, isn’t even funny at all). 

As the podcast wars heat up — with Apple, Amazon, Sirius/Stitcher, Spotify all making notable acquisitions in the space — one of comedy’s biggest names is revving up audio content: Kevin Hart. 

Hart founded LOL Network in 2017 as a niche comedy streaming service to “keep the world laughing together.” 

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Today, LOL is a multi-platform global comedy brand boasting 300+ comedians from 30 countries with 4 divisions:

  • LOL Network: Video content (most of you may know Hart’s brilliantly-named interview show, Cold As Balls) across social and streaming services — including a new multi-year deal with Peacock — that reach 100m viewers
  • LOL Studios: A full-service production company operating out of a 40k square foot soundstage in LA
  • LOL Audio: Radio, podcasts and audiobooks that make “those AirPods worth the investment” 😂
  • LOL X!: Live events 

LOL’s President & COO Thai Randolph — an industry vet who formerly worked at Facebook and Lionsgate Film — spoke to The Hustle about how LOL dealt with the pandemic and its audio plans for 2021 and beyond:

***

How did LOL fare in 2020? 

We were actually very fortunate in 2020, with revenue doubling from the previous year. 

Some of it was timing: we already had deals in place and were able to expand our distribution footprint (e.g., PlutoTV, Peacock). 

But we also worked very hard to pivot operations and keep creating content for people to be entertained. It starts from Kevin, whose hustle bleeds down through to the rest of the team. 

How is the revenue split across the divisions? 

We actually launched LOL X!, the live events arm of the business right before the pandemic. 

That went to zero in March but LOL has been set up to have diversified revenue streams and each of the other divisions — Network, Studio, Audio — have contributed to the top line. 

Our studio is back to work with socially-distant measures in place. 

And moving into 2021, there’s a specific focus on audio? 

We are expanding our slate of audio programming but already have a well-established brand with Sirius, which owns Pandora. In fact, “Straight from the Hart with Kevin Hart” is the #1 podcast on the platform. 

With Sirius’s acquisition of podcast player Stitcher, Kevin is launching a new series — Inside Jokes, which features interviews with leading comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Hasan Minhaj — that will be available everywhere. 

Other audio programming we have lined up include: 

  • Date Night, a couples and relationships show 
  • More Jazzy content social star and comedian Jasmin Brown 
  • More audiobooks…LOL recently repurposed live recordings for an audiobook (Comedy in Color, Volume 1) and has a deal with Simon & Schuster to do more 

Relatively speaking, podcasts monetize worse than video. Is the move to more audio content trying to get early in anticipation of increased ad spend? 

There’s an infographic in the office which we often refer to. It looks at the day in the life of a consumer and how they are consuming media:

  • In the morning: Check their phones and newsfeeds 
  • At the gym: Listening to music of podcasts while jogging 
  • Driving to work:  Listening to the radio
  • In the evening: Looking at second screen while watching TV 

We are competing with anyone that is offering content at these moments. 

Of course we validate each of these opportunities with a business lens, but, ultimately, we create products to make sure our fans can get LOL content wherever or whenever they want it. 

How do you find talent?

Kevin is obviously the sphere that our talent recruiting efforts work around. And he is very active on social media, with hundreds of millions of followers across the platforms. 

We also have relationships with the agencies and a partnership with Just For Laughs that provides a great pipeline. 

Who is the most interesting person you’ve met?

Kevin is definitely one of them. 

People see how funny he is but don’t know that he is very serious when it comes to business. He studies the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to understand how people can sustain high performance for a long time. 

He puts in so much practice to come off funny and natural on stage. 

Of course, you won’t leave a meeting with him without laughing but he’s very very serious when looking at the numbers as well as future expansion and opportunities. 

What’s the best advice you’ve been given? 

You can do it all. You just can’t do it all at once

Do you have a request for a startup? 

If you’re an advertiser or programmer that wants to work with an advertiser-based video (AVOD) service — like Roku, Visio or Tivo — there is no standardized metric for measuring the efficacy of programming. 

Everyone has their own custom dashboard. Anyone that can come up with a widely-used solution will make a lot of money.

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