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Special Q&A With Sam Reich
Sam Reich answered your questions about Dropout, Game Changer, and everything else. Now it's time to share those answers with the world.
A few weeks ago, I asked you to share your most pressing questions for Sam Reich - The CEO of Dropout - in the comments of a YouTube video.
And now it's time for the answers!
Sam chose what questions to answer from the collection I curated both on YouTube and Reddit!
Here are his answers below. Enjoy!
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Oren: Looking back on January 2020, how do you think Dropout evolved as a company and a streaming service? Do you feel (more) confident about the future?
Sam: I'm not going to lie: year one was difficult. The layoffs were emotionally draining, I put a good chunk of my personal money into the business, we learned we were double-counting ~25k subscribers, and production was hampered by the pandemic.
Year two was very different, however: we adopted a more aggressive organic marketing strategy, started gaining more subscribers than we were losing, and that additional budget allowed us to acquire new studio space, hire more staff, and develop new programming.
Never count your chickens - especially as we head into a recession - but I think it's safe to say we're now stable.
Chiara: I would love to know how it was to play on Dimension 20 for him (I love Buckster $ Boyd, he was my favourite PC in M&M) and what can he tell us about the new shows coming out on Dropout, like Dirty Laundry.
Sam: It was an intimidating treat. Stepping into the (virtual) dome, I felt humbled by Brennan's talent and afraid to disappoint either him or fans of the show. Ultimately, I'm proud of how I portrayed Buckster, though with the chance to grace the dome again I'd probably let loose a little bit more.
After Dirty Laundry, Make Some Noise premieres next (a Game Changer spin-off), followed by Play It By Ear (another Game Changer spin-off), followed most likely by a format of "special" we're toying around with, followed by our first venture out of the studio in many years.
AJ B: What does the business model for Dropout look like? How is it going? Would you ever expand? What content is in Dropout's future?
Sam: In the IAC ecosystem, there were a lot of half-baked business ideas that went too far: SportsPickle, Jest, the list goes on. Thusly, I'm determined to keep our business model dirt simple: we make great shows, we market those shows, and as we grow, we make more great shows.
I think we have a largely unexplored opportunity in merch, the Um Actually Kickstarter being a first serious foray into it, and I'm eager to do more there. We're planning some more ambitious drops between this and next year with new Head of Merch Randy McKay at the helm.
I took over Dropout imagining that I would reboot CollegeHumor's TV division, but I no longer have much of a desire to -- at least not at scale (read: we might develop a TV show or two, but not form a division). The Dropout opportunity is more exciting than any we'd have on TV.
Jack Kukulski - What is your ultimate vision for Dropout? Where do you see Dropout going in the next five, or ten years?
Sam: I try not to get too lost in projections, and I don't have a 3 / 5 / 10-year plan. Rather, I'm taking it a year at a time, seeing what kind of annual growth is reasonable and responsible given where we are today. The short-term goal is to grow to the point where we're supporting ~10 shows throughout the year and a small handful of cool side projects (read: specials, merch, charity initiatives, etc.).
My idealistic vision for Dropout is that it could become a default destination for unscripted comedy, the same way Adult Swim is for alternative animation, and have a reputation among its audience and creatives as a kind of safe space in a sometimes toxic industry.
I don't intend on selling anytime soon, which is to say I didn't purchase the company with the intent to "flip" it. That being said, I have no interest in running a company with 50+ staff members, so I'd probably sell if I felt I were holding it back.
Kai Kirkham: Is there any chance of a possible animated or live-action Dimension 20 TV show?
Sam: We've discussed this, and I think it's possible, although unlikely that Dropout could support it -- at least at our current budgets. We'd probably have to sell to another network, which I'm ambivalent about given that it feels a little disloyal to the Dropout audience, but I could probably ultimately get excited it about given the show's potential.
Matthew Kelso: There's been spinoffs of Game Changer announced and side quests of D20. Are there any other Dropout shows that could have a spinoff or reboot coming?
Sam: The last year has taught us that Game Changer can essentially function has a pilot program (although I'll never develop episodes with spin-offs specifically in mind).
As a programmer, you generally want to develop shows that your audience already have a modest connection to, so the spin-off strategy works great. As we get into other types of programming, I think we'll look both for connection points with our existing programming and for more shows that can function as incubators of their own.
I'd be interested in doing a second season of Total Forgiveness at some point if Ally and Grant were. I think it'd be interesting to check in with them after a two years of personal growth and see whey they are.
Lee Plynter: Does CollegeHumor still exist in any way, or is it just Dropout? I'm still a bit unclear on this.
Sam: Sort of. I'm not very invested in CollegeHumor as a brand. We're hanging onto it merely for legacy reasons. It means a lot to a lot of people who still aren't hip to Dropout.
On paper, we are "Connected Ventures"; that's the company Ricky Van Veen and Josh Abramson founded in 1999. Our email signatures say CH Media. That company includes CollegeHumor, Dropout, Dorkly, Dimension 20, Game Changer, Um Actually, and other brands. But personally, I think of us as Dropout employees.
Eventually, Dropout might grow to the point where we feel we don't need the name CollegeHumor anymore. I secretly hope that day comes.
Mush’s Room: I never knew I needed a Dropout/Hank Green crossover, but I most certainly do. So if Hank were to appear on any Dropout show, what do you think he'd be the best at?
Sam: It should come as no surprise to anyone that we and Hank are talking about getting him in shows. He just so happens to be a busy man - CEO of two different companies - who lives in Montana! …so easier said than done. I'll leave the rest up to your imagination for now.
Eila: I would love to know if Dropout has ever been considered for PS4 or PS5 amongst their other streaming options? I'd love to watch my favourite dropout shows on my TV!
Sam: We use Vimeo's out-of-the-box OTT product - the same one that powers WOW Presents and Criterion Collection - which is by in large terrific, but means we're more or less completely dependent on them for feature requests such as this (and I happen to know this feature is not a particularly high priority for them). If you want to watch on PS4 / 5, I recommend signing up via YouTube Memberships.
Brendon Lynch: If you had to change any event you experienced at CollegeHumor, what would it be?
Sam: During the most stressful time at Dropout, a certain leadership figure, who I otherwise really respected - unhappy with my programming decisions - told me to "man up" and make changes. It's exactly that kind of language that's responsible not only for a toxic workplace but also for toxic masculinity. I wish I stood up for myself and I didn't. But hey: I bought the company.
Logan Elizabeth: I’d love to know what Sam’s favorite game shows are!
Sam: Survivor, Task Master, and more recently The Circle. The best game shows are ones that adapt and evolve in order to stay fresh and interesting. I can't stay interested in any game show that's remained the same for 20 years. That's a little too Game Samer-y for me.
Kunal Basu-Dutta: How is Dropout managed? Is there a chance for growth (more shows more frequently or new media like getting picked up on streaming)?
Sam: Largely by David (COO), Andrew (CDO), and I in three meetings three times per week, and then by the rest of our team, who are largely "heads" of a given area of the company (Head of Design, Head of Process) rather than with titles on a corporate hierarchy (Director, Manager, etc.). I find that the "Head of" approach is better for accountability and means there's less jockeying for position.
I mention this above, but we are in fact in the process of growing, albeit slowly and responsibly, with ~3 new shows launching this year and more next year.
“The Following is a Test”: When and how did you realize that game shows were a good niche for y'all?
Sam: I don't think of it as "game shows" per se as much as "unscripted formats" -- which, yes, is right now largely game shows, but will be less and less as Dropout wares on. Unscripted comedy is a delicate balance of enough structure to be interesting and not enough structure to be oppressive. Game shows just so happen to be a good structure as they create narrative and stakes.
Jay Corbett: Did the... events of Total Forgiveness cause any lasting negative impact on how you greenlight or oversee other shows since then? For example, it causing extra hesitancy to do other competitive shows or even seeing possible tension growing between people that might not really be there.
Sam: Realistically, no. The season was wild, but only because we let Grant and Ally have carte blanche over the creative process, which is my style with any creative team and will continue to be.
JC: My second question, is Game Changer just an excuse to show off cool people and their talents while also occasionally being able to just give them some cool shit?
Sam: This past season of Game Changer did feel like something of a talent show, and while I don't think I'll abandon that thread entirely, I don't think I'll remain fully faithful to it either. We're only a few weeks into its writing process, but I can already tell that the next season of Game Changer has more of an evil vibe than its predecessors.
Cory Harbak: Does Sam have plans to maybe do a Cut For Time at the end of each season from now on? Considering how great the first one was, IMO.
Sam: This seems inevitable.
Noble Radar: hey Sam, I really like your speaking voice. Have you considered (or actually done some) voice acting?
Sam: I did a bit of voice acting in my 20's. Josh Ruben introduced me to his voiceover agent and the two of us went gallivanting around to auditions together. My biggest claim to fame was doing a voice in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. My character was called "young republican." You can find him on the golf courses.
I'd love to continue to do professional voice acting. I've just been too busy to market myself effectively!
CalTheUntitled: Has there ever been an idea for an episode of game changer that you wanted to do, but couldn’t get to work? Also, has there been an episode that you recorded (or started to record) but couldn’t use?
Sam: Each season of Game Changer begins with me looking back at the previous season's ideas and bringing abandoned ideas back to life, usually because - with some distance from them - I can better "solve" them.
There's never been an episode of Game Changer that didn't make it to air. Though I've liked the outcome of some Game Changer episodes more than others, it seems most faithful to the experiment to release them all and let the audience decide what they like better and worse. It seems inevitable that I'll at some point release an episode I don't like at all, but that hasn't happened yet.
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K Hil: How similar are the actors/comedians in real life, compared to the characterizations of themselves they portray in CH or Dropout? Is Grant really that silly? Is Brennan really that competitive?
Sam: All character tropes in the Hardly Working Cinematic Universe" are *based* on our real-life personas, with the possible exception of Katie's, which is more or less based on the opposite. (The funny part about Katie being a hardcore drug user/seller/Kingpin is that it's so antithetical to her goody-two-shoes personality.)
Grant is in fact very clumsy and sexual; Brennan is in fact very pedantic and competitive. But, beneath all that, they are both very kind and considerate people in real life who don't let those things dictate their work or relationships.
Trapp has also not killed Pat as far as we know.
The Logical Larynx: Who came up with the original idea for Dropout and how has it changed over time?
Sam: The impetus for Dropout was not my own. It was Shane Rahmani, former CH General Manager, who saw the writing on the wall with IAC and wanted to go subscription or die trying. IAC, who were underwhelmed by our efforts in ad sales and TV, were on board with the "Dropout or bust" thesis. I was more or less just along for the ride.
I was, however, the last one standing. By the time of the layoffs, every other high-ranking executive (with the exception of CFO Natalie Maysliche, who remains a partner in the business) had flown the coop.
TLL: What inspired him to keep going with the ideas, even after the supposed "downfall" of College Humor?
Sam: In the months before the layoffs, IAC had us going around town trying to sell the company to the highest bidder. In that process, I had put together a plan for how I thought CollegeHumor / Dropout could become profitable quickly if it needed to. Dangerously, I started believing myself.
When there were no buyers (or no buyers offering to save jobs), I pitched IAC on selling the company to me.
HQ: Queer representation!?! How did that all happen all of a sudden I'm very grateful for it but also a little confused and surprised!
Sam: I'd like to pretend as if I masterminded it, but all I ever did is encourage inclusivity among the cast, which was a bit self-reinforcing: once we were more inclusive, we attracted a more inclusive audience, and then the cast and audience demanded even more inclusivity, and so there became a virtuous cycle.