Nerdist Wants to Create a Larger Network, ‘Like a Viacom or a Disney’

Site and podcast have grown into a multiplatform empire

Nerdist has turned from being a pet project of Chris Hardwick into a podcast maker, a multichannel network and online publisher that's expanding into TV and live events. Under the direction of president Adam Rymer, the Legendary Entertainment-owned brand has added an ad sales team and hopes to become a multiplatform force. Rymer explains why they don't want to be a talent factory like other MCNs and how Weird Al's "Tacky" video came about.  

Where do you see Nerdist right now?

We look at ourselves as a modern cable network. If you're Syfy, you're stuck on your linear platform. You're broadcasting, you're programming and you're getting shows, but your ability to interact with your community is primitive. For us, we're built around that interaction. We can do lots of things that they can't do. It feels like the evolution of television, the evolution of media.

Before people only knew Nerdist for Chris Hardwick. Now there's podcasts, shows, Web series.

And we want to expand across all of it. Right now, it feels like there's a racetrack that's being built for this audience. How you deliver the content is the racetrack. It's not finished yet, but at some point it's going to be finished, and you'll know exactly how to drive on it. Whoever has got the car already built will have an advantage in that situation. If you're starting from scratch, once you see the track, it's already too late.

You also seem to have redefined multichannel networks. 

I look at the MCNs more like talent discovery agencies where they get a whole bunch of talent, one really skyrockets and they try to monetize them in some way. We're looking for people who already have an audience and the ability to create IP [intellectual property]. We don't have the resources to help hand feed somebody or show them how to make money off YouTube. We want to own the IP. We want to discover stories that connect with our community and figure out how to use them, versus just trying to figure out how to gain eyeballs. 

What does this mean for your talent partners that aren't owned by you? 

We only have a few networks that are part of our alliance. We just announced one with The Hillywood Show. We're going to have very select, talented partners that are part of our alliance. Our goal is to create shows and programming on our site, on our player—and to figure out how to exploit those in other media. Having more than 10 [creators] is sort of unmanageable. The real value comes from how you leverage that talent from your existing talent on Nerdist. If we can have Chris Hardwick work with the Hillywood talent to create a new show on Nerdist, that's a real win.

How are you tackling branded content?

Everybody would love to have Chris Hardwick, and we're always willing to have that conversation. But we're developing more talent around Nerdist that we can use in those situations. I think the older, more blue-chip companies have a harder time trying to wrap their heads around how irreverent these things can be because they're so used to controlling things on such a high level. When we write scripts and deliver [them], it takes them off guard a little bit because it's so far away from what they're used to. But the more new media-type companies, hipper brands seem to get what we're delivering.

But we don't always see branded content having to do with our talent. Sometimes it's with our voice and our brand attached to it, like the Weird Al video we produced, Tacky. We paid for it, helped promoted it, and for the first couple days it lived on Nerdist. It did 9 million-plus views [on its JW player on Nerdist alone].

What other deals have you done that people might not have realized Nerdist was behind?

When we do something branded, it's not just a video, it's usually a cross-platform experience. We did a fantastic laser tag experience at San Diego Comic-Con with Borderlands. At E3 this year, we did something with the video game Evolve that had our talent playing against each other with some live audience members—and then we produced a video of just our talent playing the game. 

What else are you looking to do digitally?

Some more Web series, and we're going to add community to the site. That's one of the things we're most excited about. We're going to let people feel like they’re much more connected. 

Bigger picture, I think you'll see us looking at different channels that might be interesting to add to the network. Not individual talent, but other brands that fit in with the Nerdist lifestyle and community that have a bunch of subscribers and are also creating content. We want to create a larger network like any other media company—like a Viacom or a Disney. We're still trying to figure it out. Right now we're going to stick to the sweet spot of what we know, and eventually, as our ad sales team understands how to monetize that space better, get things that are not too far afield.