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Comedy giant Walter Latham on why YouTube is the future

Walter Latham says the Internet and online video is what cable was 30 years ago. He hopes his YouTube channel will be a better version of BET.

Walter Latham, the creator of the film "The Original Kings of Comedy," is taking his business to YouTube. With his Latham Entertainment YouTube channel, Latham is one of four African Americans to partner with the online video company to bring urban entertainment to the Internet.

Latham says YouTube is one of the best ways for him to launch his comedic brand into the next generation. "It's a different era that we're in. Everyone is going to the Internet. And for me, it's great -- in the industry that I'm in, whether it's television or film, you have to convince another person that what you're trying to do makes sense. Whereas on YouTube, I just do whatever I want to do."

He says he hopes to surpass Black Entertainment Television as the biggest supplier of urban media. "The realistic ambition is that cable's going to go away. And you know, we are here now in the early stages of what cable was probably 30 years ago. And BET, although they had their shot, I think they could have done better -- we're going to do better. And in 30 years from now, we will be looked at as the better version of BET, but on the Internet as opposed to cable."

And Latham says he expects to continue running the channel from his home in North Carolina, even if it may be far from an entertainment capital. "The cool thing about this is as long as you have your content on a hard drive, and you have a really cool computer with really fast Internet access, you can run it from anywhere in the world."

 

Kai Ryssdal: Back in 2000, a young producer named Walter Latham took film that he'd shot of four African American comedians -- big names, too: Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley -- and turned it into a hit movie directed by Spike Lee called "The Original Kings of Comedy." Made $30 million.

Now 12 years, more comedians and more millions later, Walter Latham has taken his business online with a new YouTube comedy channel. Welcome to the program.

Walter Latham: Nice to be here.

Ryssdal: You've been around comedy for a while; you know what you're doing. You've had a whole bunch of hits. Why then choose YouTube?

Latham: It's a different era that we're in. Everyone is going to the Internet. And for me, it's great -- in the industry that I'm in, whether it's television or film, you have to convince another person that what you're trying to do makes sense. Whereas on YouTube, I just do whatever I want to do.

Ryssdal: It doesn't have to make sense.

Latham: It doesn't have to make sense.

Ryssdal: Obviously you have other sources of income that you can use to pay these guys, but how do you make money on a YouTube channel that people can watch for free and -- I'm looking at it right now -- you've got 10,032 subscribers. How does that translate into revenue for you?

Latham: Well the revenue comes from the views, and it comes from advertising relationships. And you know, what YouTube was able to do for me is go out and align us with -- I don't think we can announce it yet -- but align us with a pretty big advertiser who put pay -- who's going to pay -- to be aligned to be with our channel. So we're going to make money. It's just I can't say it yet, but we're going to definitely make money.

Ryssdal: Are you all right with this being known as a black YouTube channel?

Latham: Absolutely. Absolutely. There's nothing wrong with it -- and black transcends all color now. Rap -- Jay-Z is black, I think the last time I checked, and Kanye West is too. But I doubt they're rich because only black people are buying their music. So I'm A-OK with it. A-OK.

Ryssdal: How big do you think this could be? I mean, obviously you've got ambition, but what's the realistic ambition?

Latham: The realistic ambition is that cable's going to go away. And you know, we are here now in the early stages of what cable was probably 30 years ago. And BET, although they had their shot, I think they could have done better -- we're going to do better. And in 30 years from now, we will be looked at as the better version of BET, but on the Internet as opposed to cable.

Ryssdal: You know, it's funny, because we had the CEO of BET on the show maybe six weeks or so ago, and she seemed pretty confident she was going to hang on.

Latham: I love Debra. She's cool. But I mean, you know, she has to say that. She can't say anything different. But I can guarantee you there is no way for them to stay alive if they're not looking at a way to also get into this platform. You can't survive without it. That's just the way people want it. I mean, cable is too -- it takes too long. It's too slow, believe it or not. I'm a 42-year-old guy, so to me, cable is fine. But --

Ryssdal: But what about your kids, right?

Latham: I have 14-year-old who tells me cable's not fine. So you know, I go in his room, he has his TV on, but he's not looking at it. He's laying on the floor with his laptop and I don't know how he does this -- like lays on his back, his feet are up and his laptop is kind hanging above him, and he's just on YouTube, surfing the web constantly all day. That's what he does.

Ryssdal: If you had an opportunity now to do another "Kings of Comedy"-like thing, if you could find some vehicle that you wanted to make an actual motion picture out of, would you do it as a motion picture in theaters, or would you throw it up on YouTube?

Latham: I think right now, I would do it as a motion picture -- only because I understand the economics of that even now. You make a $3 million picture, you release it as a motion picture, you're going to make money. But that's not to say, if you made that same picture for $1 million and was able to get a sponsor to step up or two sponsors to step with $20 million or $30 million to be a part of it, and you streamed it on YouTube one night for the whole audience, that might make sense.

Ryssdal: You are in North Carolina, not necessarily the entertainment capital of the world. Can you run this network from there?

Latham: You know, the funny thing is, I run it from my house. The cool thing about this is as long as you have your content on a hard drive, and you have a really cool computer with really fast Internet access, you can run it from anywhere in the world.

Ryssdal: Walter Latham of Latham Entertainment and the Latham Comedy Channel on YouTube. Thanks very much for your time, Walter.

Latham: Thank you for having me.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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I like comedy, but not on YouTube. In fact, I don't like YouTube anymore, since they've become the Internet Yellow Pages (spam). Mostly from Amazon, with its affiliate program, where if you suck someone into buying from your Amazon link, you get credit.

To make it worse, they almost brag that they've given you the Amazon link as a favor, like they've done all this work to find the great prices for you, when it's all done by software.

Search for "Buy From Amazon US", or something like it with quotes to see how many wolves are there trolling for your dollars. If you're offended like I was, flag it as spam/scam, like I do all day long.

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