LOS ANGELES — Comedy Central might be the first TV network to make money from the Internet.
The cable television network's newest hit, Tosh.0, attracts 4 million viewers an episode, even more than who watch Comedy Central's signature programs The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report.
Tosh.0's premise is simple: Stand-up comedian Daniel Tosh and a small team that works out of a Culver City, Calif., studio cull the Internet for amateur video clips. Each week, Tosh offers caustic commentary before a live audience about the hapless victims caught on camera. The show's cornerstone is a novel segment called "Web Redemption," in which the subjects of clips made infamous on the Web relive their embarrassing moments — this time with happy endings.
In its third season, Tosh.0 is the first television show to turn raw material from the Internet into successful television programming. It appeals to young male viewers — an elusive audience for advertisers — making Tosh.0 and its Web site, Tosh.comedycentral.com, an advertising must-buy for video-game makers, movie studios and auto companies.
Mindful that so many of the 20-somethings are glued to computers and mobile devices, the show's producers have made it a priority to have a robust presence online. Even the show's name, Tosh.0 (pronounced "Tosh point O"), invokes the language of the Web.
Before the show launched in 2009, Web producers, adept at writing code and uploading videos, were hired to work alongside show producers and writers. The geeks were even allowed into the hallowed "writers room," where they could join the back-and-forth wisecracking that goes into preparing Tosh's on-air jokes.
"The show had to live online. It's a blog at its core," said Erik Flannigan, executive vice president of digital media for MTV Networks Entertainment, which includes Comedy Central. "And we had to make sure that whatever we posted had instant credibility on the Web."
Producers update the show's Web site and blog throughout the day, even when the series is on hiatus. Traffic to the site, averaging 3.2 million monthly visitors this season, is on track to more than double from last season. The show's ratings are up nearly 50 percent since last season. During each Tuesday night broadcast, Tosh and producers crowd into a conference room and tweet up a storm along with fans (Tosh can be found @danieltosh). The show's Facebook page, Facebook.com/toshpoint0, is continually updated. The result: More than 4.3 million users have given it a thumbs-up.
Tosh's snarky comments and willingness to perform Jackass-like stunts endear him to young males, who make up two-thirds of Tosh.0's audience. He recently caught a bowling ball speeding down a water slide between his legs, leaving a cantaloupe-size bruise.
"There are a million videos where someone gets kicked in the groin; this is the type of comedy that resonates well with young men," said Brent Poer, managing director of ad-buying agency MediaVest.
In fact, it was the Web that tipped off Comedy Central executives to the show's future ratings success. Early in its first season, traffic on Tosh.0's Web site and references in the blogosphere were disproportionately high compared to the show's ratings, Flannigan said. Producers quickly noticed a correlation: Viewership spiked after weeks of the intense, online buzz.
"The show's success was not ordained nor devised through some corporate goal-setting," said Charlie Siskel, the show's executive producer. "People liked the show, and they would chime in about the videos, and we started looking for more ways to connect them back to the show."
Ever since YouTube burst onto the scene in 2005, with its gusher of amateur clips of sneezing pandas and cats playing the piano, TV executives have searched for ways to make material from the Internet work on TV. — with almost no success.
"Most people have been trying to tame the Web," Poer said. Comedy Central took the approach: "Here it is; we are going to embrace the content and tone, and curate it in a way that's topical."
Tosh, 35, who shuns most media interviews and declined to comment for this story, is becoming one of Comedy Central's "franchise players" along with Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.
Sunday, the network ran an hourlong special of his stand-up act called Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts and plans to pick up the show for additional seasons. The special attracted 3.2 million viewers, making it the network's highest-rated premiere for a stand-up act among young men.