Dave Bernath: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Dave Bernath

Dave Bernath Q&A Session is happening on February 24th 2021 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST)

Dave Bernath is the former General Manager of Comedy Central, an accomplished television programmer and digital media entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience growing audiences for top content brands across traditional and emerging platforms. He is a creative leader able to motivate large organizations to meet and exceed business objectives; inspire creativity and trust, while fostering collaboration and innovation across all levels.

Comfortable presenting in board rooms, brainstorming on whiteboards or thriving in the open plan, Bernath combines deep experience in traditional media with a lifelong learner’s embrace of technology, innovation and change. His experience on the traditional side spans the following: driving audience growth through programming strategy and content acquisitions; P&L oversight; pitching new business for content distribution; fostering relationships with talent and representation; working closely with in-house and 3rd party productions; oversight of marketing campaigns, budgets and implementation; partnering with ad sales and clients; press strategy; HR management and staff culture. His experience in technology covers the following: oversight of new products from initial conception through launch: UX/design, product roadmap development and beta testing; hiring vendors/contractors for engineering, product management, social media content creation and digital marketing; writing company decks and business plans and presenting to venture capital firms and private investors. 

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Dave Bernath – Transcript

AMA with Dave Bernath @ Comedy Central

February 24th, 2021

Hey @here – It’s time for our Q&A session with Dave Bernath!! Dave is the former GM of Comedy Central. He’s had over 20 years of experience growing audiences for top content brands across traditional and emerging platforms.You can ask Dave about so many different things when it comes to traditional media and digital marketing/technology, but here are some ideas – Programming strategy, content acquisition, P&L oversight, pitching new business for content distribution, talent and representation relationships, marketing campaigns, budgets, UX/design, product roadmap development, beta testing, product management, social media and digital marketing, company decks and business plans…honestly, the list goes on!We have him for an hour, so make it worth your time. Ask away!

Thanks for doing this, Dave! What are some practical steps you would take to start growing, say, a newsletter from scratch? Maybe organically, but paid advertising as well?

We’re getting off to a great start Brad – a question that unfortunately does not track with my experience or skillset  Sorry mate!

Hey Dave, knock knock? jk
Any tips for a new product launch and specifically around how to make a comms plan to promote it properly.

With my own start up Laugh Exchange we hired a PR person who landed us a huge story in Variety – but it didn’t really translate to user growth – but more of a legitimacy calling card.  Helped with fundraising and establishing us as a real thing – but no more.  The lesson I learned is to start slow and hyperfocus on the core users. We did a good job with the comics but not so much on the users.

Hey, Dave! With everything that you do, I’m thinking you’re a “multipotentialite” (something I just heard about recently but am feeling HARD). Would you consider yourself more of a generalist than a specialist, or do you still have a specialty? And how do you think the way you position yourself has helped or hurt you in your career?

This is a meaty one – I will come back to is.  Short answer, generalist.

Hi, Dave! Thanks for being here with us today. two questions from my side:

  1. do you think we are facing a new beginning in the content creation & acquisition world – Will businesses (e.g., SaaS) and media companies target and acquire newsletters to get quick access to their ideal customers?
  2. what is the number one metric you always measure and why
  1. the new beginning – at least in my business of premium video – has been underway for 10+ years or more. Digital disrupted the gatekeepers big time.  I find ‘content’ means different things to different people – and generally in a space like this, actually NOT what traditionally I would mean by content – as in longform, premium video.  I love newsletters but for bigger outfits (Viacom, Netflix) I’m not sure what role they can play.
  2. – hmmm – depends on the context, right? lemme think on that. Quick answer is simple ‘ratings’ or in many cases ‘views’.

Are there any new products or trends you’ve seen emerging in the marketing space that have caught your attention lately?

I had a meeting yesterday with a very forward facing ticketing platform – and they do a great job if enabling all ticket buyers to immediately start acting as affiliates. That’s not a new concept – but having it percolate out into lots of consumer behaviors – one can imagine a digital wallet racking up micro payments or points based on my personal ripple effect? – that’s interesting.  I guess falls under the broad umbrella of how to get your user to do your marketing for you.

What’s your thoughts on SEO and where it’s going, as I know some are hesitant about SEO. Would love your thoughts on the matter

Hey Shalom – per my dry wit infused response to Brad off the top – not my area. I can at least claim to have understood the term for 20 years  – but I don’t have much to say about it.

Gotcha. Ok but give me this.
Who’s your favorite comedian?

See reply to show question – how much bitcoin you got?  

Hi Dave! Of your experience growing audiences in Comedy Central, how difficult do you think it is to balance creative freedom with overhead management? Are there any tips for finding the balance?

Great question. At the ultra-premium level (HBO, Comedy Central), episodes cost a ton – and though you do try and manage budgets within reason, the primary focus is getting breakthrough creative and then marketing it.  For folks further down the food chain, as in life, the lower the overhead, the greater the freedom.

Are there any commonalities you see in growing community across any kind of audience? Any universal gems?

In my experience the primary driver is talent – and by that I mean a person or group that inspires people and drives engagement. Concepts, genres, topics, etc – they all matter, but personality, likability, relatability and connecting with people – that’s the secret sauce – from everyone from Trevor Noah to TikTok stars.  You need stars.

Hey Dave, thanks for doing this! How has remote life changed for you?

Things like an AMA on slack feel like a party!

But seriously – one feels a bit guilty and ashamed to say it’s been positive in a lot of ways – given what’s been happening to so many folks. But that said, it’s made me slow down a bit, ironically. You work, take walks, prepare food – and life has become smaller and slower in a way – even though I’ve never worked this much!  I might come back to this…

Hi Dave! Nice to talk to you!

  1. How is the office mood all the time? What is like to work in comedy central?
  2. If you were on a small budget to grow your business, what would you priorize and focus on: paid media, email marketing OR focus yourself into content building virals? How does that works on Comedy Central?
  1. Working at CC was the highlight of my TV career. So many talented people and everyone very devoted to our show, talent and brand. It was an incredible 12 years. I was so thankful every day to get to work there.
  2. I’m not a marketer per se – though I’ve overseen it and worked with great marketers. It really depends on the context. Launching a big prime time show with a star – you have to go big, right?  Versus a digital short form series where you hope to build a core audience slowly.  There’s no question that paid media can be expensive – and at least in the TV biz – very hard to measure ROI.  Not as true in digital, obvi.

One additional problem in TV is time – as in no one wants to or can afford to let things build slowly. But there’s a saying – ‘the overnight success ten years in the making’ – so I hope in whatever you’re doing, you can let things grow organically!

Hi Dave! So excited you’re here! How do you measure brand awareness? We’ve done aided/unaided measurement through surveys QoQ but we’re trying to automate this process… potentially building an Awareness Score Program that has a weighted system with KPIs as a proxy for measurement!  Let me know what you think.

Hey Maria – off the top of my head I can’t recall a specific methodology or vendor we used. We used a lot of them! What you’re doing sounds good as long as you can get a good sample (he says, stating the obvious!)  We had some big, clunky ways to measure this kind of thing – from Nielsen ratings, video streams, press hits.  I imagine it’s harder in different industries and emerging businesses.

Hi Dave, thanks for being here. And hi everyone : )
 What are your top ways, thought processes, or info sources to gauge subscription-garnering strategies?
 How do you gauge how much time to put into a new platform or channel?  I know youre not a marketer per se but gauging awareness vs conversion on new platforms.

AMA alum in the house…

I was just replying to Juan that in TV, time is compressed to its detriment.  That said we only have one basic conversion metric which is viewership on whatever platform. For me it’s always about trending – even with small numbers.  Are we moving up or down?

My current obsession is first party data orchestration across disparate platforms for the purpose of owned tracking.

  1. Is the industry leaning towards owned data? Or is that still the prevue of the Nielsen’s Kantars and Wide Orbits of the world?
  2. How much does this type of data contribute to the business aspects of creating network and content partnerships?

Thanks for making time!

  1. Ok – that first sentence was intimidating Amy .  like most businesses, tv never really knew its customers – at all.  so the traditional guys covet what Netflix has – but it’s really hard to get it.  So for most, 3rd party still rules.  they’re getting there slowly and its where they want to go for sure.  But not easy.
  2. to the extent I can comment and/or understand the question () – it certainly does.  For the legacy guys they need to tap in to networks and systems that can extend their reach, as one example.

Sort of a follow-up to Sammi Dittloff’s earlier question around your being a specialist vs. a generalist: curious to know, Dave, what you see as being most of value in 2021 and beyond (or where you’d encourage “marketers” to channel their energies): being a Swiss Army knife or mastering a specific success vertical? What’s more appealing to you in a job candidate?

I’ve struggled with this one personally. I got into TV at first as a temp – so I wasn’t someone who grew up highlighting schedules in TV Guide dreaming of working at a network (I know people who did). I loved entertainment and storytelling – moved to LA to write screenplays (another AMA) – and then just landed in TV and then it turned into a great career.

And I’ve always had a lot of interests outside of work – not the mention a wife and what grew to be a brood of four kids.  I work to live, not live to work.  And for the most part that equanimity served me well.

Also as you move up the ladder you stop doing the work and start managing people who do the work – which is not an easy transition. I certainly struggled – but grew to love that aspect of work.

So what do you become? – a “leader” and “good manager.”  Someone who can build morale and take care of all those intangibles that make a staff hum.  And in some ways, at least in my industry and my stage of career, that takes you further away from the core product and certainly doesn’t increase your specialization.

That said, creative organizations need leadership. Young staff need mentors. Level heads who have been to a few rodeos can make a difference, right? At least I like to think so!

Hi Dave Bernath, thank you for being here, what do you believe is the future of digital marketing/growth based on the new Apple tracking restriction that will make it hard to reach consumers both on Facebook and probably Google in the long run.

This may be rude (in this forum) or sound callous, but I’m ready for a big re-set / blow up of much of the current way the internet works – at least when it comes to privacy, tracking, ads.  I don’t have all the answers but I would love to see the ecosystem transition in this manner.  You guys are online geniuses, you’ll figure it out!

Hello Dave! Excited to read your responses on here. Your background is fascinating! This is a little long, so I understand if you can’t answer my questions in depth.

  1. What do you think about brands balancing spending on television vs digital marketing which has demonstrable ROI?
  2. What have you seen bring the best ROI for brands when marketing / advertising themselves on TV?
  3. What do you think is the most attributable method of TV advertising / placement (since it can be difficult to measure the effects of TV)?

Here’s a backstory behind the questions. My VP of Sales has an extensive background in marketing and advertising, and some in TV. I hired him from a television advertising company that features businesses in segments on television shows they produce and air on major channels as a form of advertising. He felt that they were completely missing the mark with opportunities for businesses to win from this, since the businesses being featured weren’t necessarily spending on marketing themselves online, instead they are spending loads to get on TV, and therefore, they never really saw an increase in sales from being featured on these segments. Common example – a person sees one of these businesses on TV, and then searches for them online, but can’t find them under their brand name because they haven’t done any SEO. If they had spent the same amount they’d spent on these small TV segments on SEO instead, we could have given them an ROI they would not believe.

  1. It depend on the category and goals. TV reach is awesome for brand building or planting a flag – but only if you’re ready for it/need it.  But for most stuff, I would think digital digital digital.  Did make sense for com to start doing TV when they did? – probably. But they didn’t build their business that way.
  2. A bit of 1.  Brand building, planting ones flag, changing the narrative – these are all harder to measure.  The people who are closest to a pure play are the Direct Response advertisers.  They run the ads and watch for phone calls and online clicks.  IT’s very clear.
  3. I don’t know if there is an answer. With CTV players like Roku I thing buyers can increasingly get better targeting.  The right placement in content can also be a boon – it all depends.

Yo Dave, you rock. So no one is asking but I will, any fun stories from your comedy central days?

So many – like the time I was in the master control room in the MTV building having to review and confirm all the bleeps and edits to a South Park episode right before it was going to premiere.  That was fun.

I always wanted to win Ben Stein’s Money, but was too young.

Being on the set of The Daily Show when Obama won in 2008. Roast tapings were always incredibly fun.

Being on a video conference call with Matt Groening discussing the re-launch of new episodes of Futurama.

Ok, so let’s be honest. What was the worst show you had to deal with? One that you knew was going to be a failure, wasn’t funny, but was already greenlit?

How much bitcoin do you have to make me answer that?

Smaller one – but our rebrand – and deciding not only that we were ready for the double C mark but also the backwards bit.

Yeahhhhhhhhhh. That is super dope Any stories from Win Ben Stein’s money? Kimmels first role as the sidekick.

Before my time by a bit.  But a great show and Kimmel just kept on rolling at CC and then ABC.  I remember how excited we were when he agreed to MC the Pam Anderson roast.

He was always supportive of CC even after he moved on.

Picking up and launching Broad City was a highlight.


What do you do, Command-D for ‘Dope’?  


Alt Command-D

I am starstruck, apologies.

It’s all good – seems like it’s just you and me now.  I’ve got to bounce soon tho.

The roasts were always good, ran into Jeff Ross, I was insulted that he didn’t insult me!

Ahhh, no worries. Thanks for the chat

Haha this has turned into an interesting session!

He’s the best – pure Roastmaster all the way.

And for the information.

Thank you so much for the time Dave Bernath!!

He owes me an insult

All I got was a nod and a smile

Aaaaah I think I’m late, but hi Dave Bernath!! With Emerging Platforms in mind, how important is it to be an early adopter there? Comedy Central has an absolute GOLD MINE of content that’s able to be repurposed across medium to medium and it’s super cool to see that. What would you recommend for other businesses/areas that don’t have as much “content” available at hand to take part in these trends & emerging platforms? 

Tough question in that there’s no substitute for volume and/or library, right?  I was part of a recent effort to launch 4 movies channels on FAST platforms (Samsung, Vizio, Roku) but we could do that because Sony has a huge library!

Comedy Central was not always quick to new platforms or new forms.  We blew it on HD and were late to that party.

People said. “it’s not any funnier in HD” but the problem was that the audience – and especially young men – started hanging out in all the HD channels because of the quality – and so they just started watching us less.  Had we moved with them into the HD neighborhood on cable, we wouldn’t have taken the hit – but we did.

That’s awesome – thank you for sharing! Working with those libraries would’ve been my favorite part of the job  This is amazing!!

You rock Dave Bernath

I have to go guys!

Thank you, thank you!

Thanks for hanging

You rockkkkkkkk

btw everyone – I was just replying to Nicolino.  Today is the launch of a movie channel I’ve been putting together for months.  CINEVAULT is the umbrella brand. If you have Roku, Samsung TV+ or Vizio you can see it.


Super dope

Alt-Command D baby

You know ittttttttt

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