VET Tv: Making Comedy From Tragedy In The Age Of Covid

For Vet Tv CEO Donny O'Malley, coping with coronavirus is a lot like war-gaming: rehearse for situations that appear completely unmanageable, and learn to adjust on the fly.

Back around mid-February when the coronavirus became a threat, most business owners had no idea how dire the situation would become. For a multitude of reasons, the entertainment business was extremely susceptible to a pandemic, but years of training on the battlefields of business and war would play a key role in making sure that we would not just survive during Covid-19, but we would thrive.

For those not familiar with VET Tv, we are a subscription-based SVOD channel, also known as Veteran Television. We recreate, parody and celebrate the military experience for those who served with dark and irreverent comedy. The majority of our staff, myself included, have served in the armed forces.

TV and film production is full of logistical challenges that must be solved quickly in a constantly changing environment, much like the military. It’s a lot like war-gaming. For years, we’d rehearsed for situations just like this, where we’re assessing a situation that appears completely unmanageable, yet we’d learned to adjust, so when coronavirus hit, we did the same thing.

In our business, we deal with tragedy through comedy, so naturally, what did we do when the coronavirus first struck? We maintained our irreverence. In typical VET Tv fashion, we put out a video message to our viewers and tried to explain the coronavirus with that same irreverence. And we even offered new subscribers a 50% discount on their first month’s subscription if they used the code Corona50. That video turned out to be one of the highest-converting pieces that we’ve ever put out.

Well over 180,000 people have subscribed to VET Tv at one time or another and many of those subscribers are military veterans. A cornerstone of what we do is build social connection among our audience. One of the biggest dangers and leading causes of suicide among veterans is social isolation and as the coronavirus began to envelop America, people in almost every state were being told to shelter-in-place, stay-at-home and socially isolate. Right away, we knew that we were going to have to work harder than ever to create social connection for our viewers.

While VET Tv makes people laugh, suicide is no laughing matter, especially at a time when published veteran suicide rates range anywhere from 17-22 per day. That’s reason enough to continue to churn out content for our viewers, despite the filming and production challenges that the coronavirus pandemic was about to present.

At the time when coronavirus hit, we had just achieved our lowest-ever cost-per-acquisition with large-scale marketing dollars. We had all these people sitting at home with nothing to do but watch TV, and subscribing to VET Tv seemed like the right thing to do. And many of them did.

One of my favorite quotes is “luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” and that’s exactly how we dealt with coronavirus. We weren’t lucky—we were prepared, and when the tragedy struck, our preparation allowed us to create opportunity.

Our creative team did a fantastic job as well. Collaboration is one of our key principles, but since we couldn’t do that in-person, scripts, readings and treatments were done in smaller groups and via online platforms like Zoom and Slack. We also got even more creative with content and production since we could only have three or four people on a set. Using things like crowd-sourced content and green-screen sketches, we were able to launch two new series during coronavirus—Drone Boyz and Troops Gone Wild—and we also introduced several new characters to our audience.

When it looked like things would return to normal, we rescheduled our next four productions and put the pieces in place to execute them, but a week prior to the first production, Covid cases skyrocketed and we had to shut down production once again.

This time we decided to shut down all of 2020, knowing that we’d face the same challenges of virus testing and cast not showing up.

Since we promised our customers one new episode per month, we had to brainstorm seven new show concepts that involved a smaller cast and crew, all of whom would be part of our full-time staff, to replace the productions we cancelled.

Again, we came together as a team, adapted and overcame the new logistical challenges of film production during coronavirus. And when the next wrench gets thrown into our plan, we’ll adapt and overcome yet again.

The effort of our team kept us from stagnating during the pandemic. We approached the coronavirus and this tragedy exactly the same way that we’ve approached every single other tragedy that we’ve experienced, with irreverence and a desire to make the best out of the situation. Because of that, we not only sustained, but we grew in both revenue and staff—and more importantly, we kept our community laughing.