Jefferson Graham, USATODAY
LOS ANGELES - YouTube is already the biggest force in online entertainment, attracting more than 1 billion viewers monthly.
Now it wants to put a shine on one of its most popular genres - laughs - with a week-long, star-studded comedy festival beginning Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.
Guests on the initial two-hour live stream include film stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Seth Rogen, Comedy Central's Tim and Eric, TV's Conan O'Brien and Rainn Wilson, comedians Ricky Gervais and Sarah Silverman and homegrown YouTube stars The Gregory Brothers, Rhett & Link and Ryan Higa.
Danielle Tiedt, YouTube's vice president of marketing, said the festival is aimed at building awareness for just how popular comedy is on YouTube. "A third of our top 100 channels are comedy," she says. (Music is by far the most popular genre.)
Tiedt wanted the general public to realize that along with the up-and-coming YouTube stars who attract hundreds of millions of views for their work, top names from show business are also producing professional content.
"When people think about YouTube, I think most people see it as user-generated content," she says. "My goal is to highlight the partners (video creators) who create comedy every single day."
The Sunday show will be a two-hour mash-up of live performances and taped pieces. There's no official host, but Silverman and Vaughn will introduce segments. The Gregory Brothers (who produce music videos based on news of the day) and Rhett & Link - who create ad parodies - will team up for a taped performance.
After the live show, the Sunday performances will be archived at youtube.com/comedyweek. New shows will continue each night next week at 8 p.m. ET through Saturday.
Airing live video isn't what YouTube is best known for, but Tiedt says it's "increasingly becoming a bigger part of our platform."
In October, YouTube streamed daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumping 128,000 feet to safety in New Mexico, with 8 million folks watching. "That was 8% of all Internet streaming," she says. "It was a great success."
YouTube began an initiative at the beginning of 2012 to spend $100 million funding the creation of 100 original channels to help bring more polished content to the service.
Several have become successful. TV producer Brian Robbins sold his Awesomeness TV channel to DreamWorks for $33 million, for instance. YouTube recently announced plans to expand into premium content, with more than 50 channels (including content from Sesame Street and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.)
Meanwhile, response from creators to participate in the comedy festival has been huge, notes Tiedt. Promos for the event began appearing online this week featuring former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is not scheduled to appear at the event, but is a fan of YouTube) mashing it up with YouTube stars, including comedian Grace Helbig.
Tiedt hopes to make the comedy week a yearly event. "That's my dream," she says.