Thanks to comedian Louis C.K., the business of comedy is undergoing rapid changes. Who controls the distribution of content in the niche is being turned on its head.
We wrote about Mr. C.K. just the other day here on TNW, noting the success of his method to help end ticket scalping by implementing his own sales system – and rules. If you bought a ticket to one of his shows, and try to sell it for a higher price, the ticket is canceled. End of story. Scalping is down over 90% due to the system.
However, the ticketing ploy isn’t Louis’s first use of technology to change the comedy landscape; he previously made headlines by self-releasing a comedy special, selling it for a flat $5, without DRM. It was a massive success, selling more than 200,000 units.
Other comedians, such as Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan followed in those footsteps. Now, a new website, Lolflix, wants to allow even more folks to sell their specials for $5, sans DRM. LaughSpin, who discovered the site, explains its goals:
LOLFlix allows users to stream or download stand-up specials that were originally produced for Showtime, and now Scott Montoya, the longtime comedy producer behind it all, is beginning to work alongside comedians to produce original specials as well.
So, extant content is being sold, and new, fresh content is on the way. Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few issues that may stick. To begin, the site take a fat cut, up to 50%, of revenues. This is quite different than what Louis C.K. did, by producing the entire affair himself; he wasn’t in business with anyone else for a slice of the pie approaching half. Also, some are protesting that the website forces users to create accounts, something that C.K. did not.
From Reddit user Iggyhopper:
Isn’t this just another middleman in a new form? Sign up with a lolflix account? How ’bout no. Louis CK required one thing to enter: your email.
Still, those bumps aside, the website, if it can attract a sufficiently large userbase, could help smaller comedians make a few bucks, and perhaps produce their own hour long set. And that would be nothing but a good thing.
Ready for more Louis C.K.? You’re in luck. The comedian released a brand new album, “WORD: Live at Carnegie Hall,” today as a download on his website. Laughspin first reported the news this morning, and although they first indicated that the album would not be released until tomorrow, “Word” is currently available on louisck.net for $5.
The comedian received plenty of accolades for his latest one-hour special, “Live at the Beacon Theater,” which he announced, produced, and independently released within about a month last November. This time, he’s beat his own record by releasing the album without any formal announcement beforehand.
Although some of the material may be familiar to fans of C.K., it has never been released as a special before. He explains on his website:
This is material that I was performing two years ago (about) on a tour that was called “Word”. Some of this material was on my FX show “Louie” in pieces but the entire show in one piece was never released. This show was recorded at Carnegie Hall on November 4, 2010.
His last special before “Beacon Theater,” the concert film and album “Hilarious,” was filmed in April 2009, over a year before his “Word” tour. C.K. is notorious for developing a new hour of comedy each year. “Beacon Theater” will make its TV debut Saturday on FX.
The “Louie” star, who recently swept the Comedy Awards, also released his breakthrough special “Shameless” for $5 on his website
If you guys haven’t heard, LCK has released an audio version of his HBO special Shameless, an audio version of Live at the Beacon Theatre, and an audio version of his new (although old-ish) special Word - Live at Carnegie Hall. These are all for sale for $5 each. If you’ve already purchased the video version of Live at the Beacon, you can log back in and download the audio-only version for free. So head on over to LouisCK.net and support our favorite comedian. :)
Having shown that large numbers of people will seek out and pay for a stand-up comedy special that isn’t readily accessible on television, Louis C. K. is now bringing that special to television. FX, the cable channel that is home to Louis C. K.’s scripted comedy series, “Louie,” said Monday that it would broadcast his most recent stand-up concert film, “Live at the Beacon Theater,” starting on Saturday, following its successful run as an Internet-only download.
The special, which was filmed in November at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, went on sale at the comedian’s Web site in December at a cost of $5. It rapidly sold more than 220,000 downloads and grossed more than $1.1 million, more than enough for Louis C. K. to cover his production costs, pay bonuses to his crew, donate $280,000 to charities and persuade comedians and broadcasters to take the online-only model much more seriously. The FX broadcasts of “Live at the Beacon Theater” and the coming third season of “Louie,” which begins June 28, are technically free, provided you pay your subscription fee to a cable or satellite service that offers FX.
Separately, Comedy Central said on Tuesday that it will start showing “Dangerously Delicious,” a stand-up comedy performance by the “Parks and Recreation” star Aziz Ansari, on May 20. That special had previously been sold as a $5 online download at Mr. Ansari’s Web site beginning in March.
Comedian Louis CK conducted an experiment this past week that could change the InterWebs forever. At least, it may change how people promote and consume content online, as well as how they feel about file swapping.
Rather than go the traditional route of signing up with a major production company to film his standup routine and sell it to HBO or some other pay cable outlet, Louis CK decided he would produce the show himself and sell it himself, via the Web.
On Dec. 10, “Louis CK Live at the Beacon Theater” went on sale. For $5 a pop you could stream the film (twice) or download it (three times). And that’s it. DRM restrictions? Distribution monopolies? Information hoarding? Fahgeddaboutit.
On the site, he placed the following message:
To those who might wish to “torrent” this video: look, I don’t really get the whole “torrent” thing….But I’d just like you to consider this: I made this video extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.
Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I’m just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea.
The experiment in a nutshell: If you give people a good product at a reasonable price without getting too much in their face, will they pay for it — even if they could finagle a free copy in other, less legal ways?
The answer? Yes, they will. Four days after posting the file, the comic posted a statement detailing what has happened so far: 110,000 legal downloads, over $500K in revenue. Minus production expenses, a tidy profit — though not what he would have made if he’d gone the traditional route.
Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video. They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely. This way, you only paid $5, you can use the video any way you want, and you can watch it in Dublin, whatever the city is in Belgium, or Dubai. I got paid nice, and I still own the video (as do you). You never have to join anything, and you never have to hear from us again.
I had to stop and let that sink in for a bit. A vendor who takes my money and doesn’t feel like he now “owns” me and my data from this day unto the grave? I really like the sound of that. And it makes me much more inclined to purchase from this vendor again.
A big reason why this experiment has been successful comes down to Louis CK’s down-to-earth persona. He’s not a Kardashian. He comes across as an honest, blue collar guy who’s at least as screwed up as any of the rest of us but manages to be very funny about it.
I think a lot of file sharing isn’t driven merely by extreme stinginess or even the desire to feel like you’re getting away with something naughty. It’s because the people who run the companies that control most of the content we consume areenormous flaming a**holes. It’s payback for decades of being ripped off.
Louis CK? Not an enormous flaming a**hole. Or if he is, he manages to hide it well. So if you decide to rip him off just to avoid paying $5 — or enable thousands of others to do it — what does that say about you? You’re a pathetic loser. That’s what it says.
Of course, I was able to find illegal copies of the same show. A quick search of PirateBay turned up at least six torrent sites where it had been posted. One of the file swappers even wrote an apologia, of sorts. I repeat it here in all its inarticulate and ungrammatical glory:
yea its the new one yea i kinda feel bad putting it here but people like louis ck gotta realize without torrents and the net he wouldnt be anywhere bc honestly louis i know ur here and i know u mite be mad at me but u gotta realize not everyone has paypal , not everyone has credit cards, some people use net lounges, some have barely money for food, art = comedy should be shared with the mass , and Believe me u can judge the popularity more from the torrent downloads then the paypal sales, also if people like it , its easier to buy on there ipad/ipod or personal/work computers… more buzz = more fales [SIC ad infinitum]
Four words: Dude, get a job. That is, if anyone will hire you.
What’s new isn’t the concept of artists distributing some of their content for little or nothing online as an enticement to buy more stuff. That’s been done for years. What’s new is that the seller of the content is also one of the good guys. And the people who rip off his content for free? They’re the enormous flaming a**holes. That’s a sea change that could ripple across the Net for years.
Louis C.K.’s online experiment: Though initially most notable among fans of FX’s “Louie” and those who enjoy stroking their chin about Internet commerce, Louis C.K.’s recent effort to film and self-release a downloadable stand-up concert from his website was a victory for the good guys. Selling it for $5 a copy with no digital rights restrictions, Louis made enough money to try it again, which is good news for comedy as well as for human nature.
Louis C. K. is something of a pirate in the entertainment world, a man who has ignored propriety on his way to building a huge comic franchise. So it’s odd to see him put one of his shows for sale on the Web and politely ask fans not to rip him off.
The weirder thing? It seems to be working.
A scabrous and successful champion of the everyman, Louis C. K. decided last week to go direct with his fans: no cable special, no middleman, just a simple download for $5 on his Web site to see his comedy show “Louis C. K.: Live at the Beacon Theater.”
The show could be viewed as the consumer wished, with no rights protection or expensive subscription. A buy-it-and-watch-it proposition, no cable company involved. He was also, of course, enabling people to watch it free — without digital rights management, it was there for the pirating — and some went right to the torrent sites and did so.
But many, many other people paid the fiver and got a package of two streams and three downloads, which could be burned to a DVD or streamed on a smartphone and wherever else they felt like watching it.
Louis C. K. is a freak about doing it himself. He writes, directs, produces and acts in his own series, “Louie,” then edits it himself with Final Cut Pro on his Mac. And now the king of D.I.Y. has one more credential: distributor.
“I went at this like a consumer, just looking at human impulses,” he told me.
“I buy lots of things online and I had a focus group of one. I thought about it, and five bucks seemed almost free and I figured if I took out the hassle, most of the speed bumps, it would almost be like hitting a link and streaming it. It’s been pretty damn great so far.”
While I was talking with him on the phone Thursday night, he checked his Web site and about 175,000 people had bought his special through PayPal. He expected 200,000 total downloads by the weekend, which meant he would have grossed $1 million. After covering costs of about $250,000 for the live production and the Web site, that’s a $750,000 profit. And he owns the rights, and the long tail of buyers, in perpetuity. The transparency of the enterprise, including its cost in relation to how many people bought in, was the subject of media coverage all last week.
“It feels weird having numbers out there, because that’s my personal income,” he said. “But I talked to my mom, who is a pretty judicious, careful person, and she said, ‘Tell them everything. Just let it all get out there.’ So that’s what I have been doing, at least so far.”
Louis C. K. has been doing comedy since 1984, when he took a break from working on cars to try stand-up. He didn’t go to college, is not deep into technology, and doesn’t think of himself as any sort of pioneer. But he has a fundamental understanding of the Web and what it could mean for content providers and consumers.
“O.K., so NBC is this huge company and they have all these studios and these satellites to beam stuff out,” he said, “but on the Web, both NBC.com and LouisCK.com have the same amount of bandwidth. We are equals and there are things you can do with that. This has been a fun little experiment.”
It may be little, but it has significant implications, pointing a way forward for performers and the consumers who want to pay for their work.
Television faces threats from many sides, including from people who are cutting their cable cord and watching programming over the Web, as well as any number of Web-based programmers like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon. But network and cable television’s big hedge against insurgent technologies has always been its stranglehold on programming and talent. If I wanted to see how “Homeland” ended and was not willing to steal it, I’m would have had to pay Verizon Fios for my cable feed, which in turn pays Showtime.
In fact, I wouldn’t know anything about Louis C. K. if it weren’t for cable. I DVR’d his freakishly hilarious series “Louie” on FX, which is owned by News Corporation, and I saw his last two comedy specials on cable. The people who helped build the brand of Louis C. K. might wonder about his decision to go native (digitally), but hey, it’s the Internet: it’s every man, woman, producer, consumer, company and cable outfit for itself!
“I am not sticking it to the Man,” he said. “There is no the Man in this story and if there were, he would be like a kindly old father. HBO gave me a half-hour comedy show, a series that I had complete control over, and then a full-hour comedy special. They have been nothing but great to me.”
“But they don’t really want what I have any more,” he said. “Comedy specials are just like grist to the mill to them, so I thought it was time to try something else.” (He added that “Louie” would be on FX as long as the channel wanted it. “I am completely loyal to them,” he said.)
Going through a middleman to put out a televised version of his latest stage show clearly rankled Louis C. K., who is used to getting in front of an audience and daring them not to laugh. Besides, some of the economics of dealing with cable bugged him. He was paid a fee upfront and the cable outfits shouldered the costs, but he had no participation in the backend — DVDs, on-demand and reruns.
“I’ve never seen a check from a comedy special,” he told Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”
Louis C. K. portrays himself as a working stiff, a 44-year-old divorced father who is capable of telling sort of mean jokes about his own children. But he’s displayed a great deal of digital savvy, carefully building a simple user-friendly site to facilitate the transaction. His default setting for whether a customer wanted additional product information from Louis C. K. was “No. Leave me alone forever, you fat idiot.”
The download of the Mp4 to my laptop took under four minutes and I still had two streams and two downloads left. (I watched one of the streams on my iPad at bedtime.) When he began the experiment, he did a Q. and A. on the Web site Reddit, a great place to address those inclined toward piracy.
“I think it is really interesting that I brought the price so close to stealing and made the movie so easy to get and made it so clear that it’s a human offering that it sparked a debate about pirating,” he wrote. “To steal from someone and not feel bad, you either have to be a sociopath or view the act differently.”
By putting a face on the content, Louis C. K. changed the subject from whether it is O.K. to game a big corporation to whether it’s morally appropriate to simply take the work of an artist that other people have paid for.
On Wednesday on his site, he declared the experiment a success.
“I’m really glad I put this out here this way and I’ll certainly do it again,” he wrote. “If the trend continues with sales on this video, my goal is that I can reach the point where when I sell anything, be it videos, CDs or tickets to my tours, I’ll do it here and I’ll continue to follow the model of keeping my price as far down as possible, not over marketing to you, keeping as few people between you and me as possible in the transaction.”
Louis C. K.’s ability to hack his own route to his public brings joy to the Web-inclined — “Louis C. K. wins everything ever,” said the wags at Vulture, New York magazine’s Web site — but will seem less charming to the cable outlets who teamed up with him and helped build him into a juggernaut. But his exalted status as someone worth paying for on the Web not only derives from his exposure on cable, but also from the fact that he is one of the funniest humans on earth.
“This is not about cable, it’s about concerts,” he told me. “I have been out on the road for a long time selling tickets, and me and the people I work with aren’t that surprised, to be honest. We knew people would buy it. People have been paying for what I do for a long time now.”
Louis CK makes really funny jokes and he wants you–even if you are broke, especially if you are broke—to be able to laugh at him. His newest venture, Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theatre is a full-length show available to download for $5. I just paid $19.99 for Chris Rock’s “Kill the Messenger” on iTunes, where full-length stand-up routines range in price from $4.99 to over $20. But here’s the thing—at this point we know that artists and comedians are making apittance selling product through venues like iTunes and getting even less though streaming websites like Spotify and Last.fm. So Louis CK, ever the innovator, decided to take matters into his own hands and start selling his work independently.
Louis CK is a hard working guy who understands his fans are hardworking (or unemployed) people. So to maximize profit on his side and minimize cost on ours, he figured out a way to sell us Live at the Beacon at a fraction of what it would cost had he used a production company. The actual show cost $170,000, but was covered almost entirely by ticket sales at the actual live performances. He paid for filming out of pocket and did his own video editing and embedded virtually no DRM protections on the finished video. Marketing was mainly word of mouth, and 12 hours after it was released, Louis CK had made back his money.
Predictably, the show is “all over torrent sites” but it doesn’t matter. Four days after the release, he had sold over $500,000 worth of downloads, with a net profit of about $200,000. Granted, in his own words, this is less than Louis CK would have been paid by a production company to release a similar product—but that product would have cost more and been distributed less, both in the US and internationally. This way, anyone with an Internet connection and beer money can spend an hour laughing at Louis CK—and a few moments thanking him.
Musicians (Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails) have been experimenting with alternative distribution methods since Napster and similar file sharing programs rocked the industry a decade ago. Contemporary authors (including MCDM Director Hanson Hosein) have utilized online publishing methods in lieu of the traditional publishing company in order to keep production costs low, release schedules short and profits in pocket. Customers can potentially benefit from these lower upfront costs in the marketplace.
Actually, this type of experiment is not exactly a departure for CK, who has been granted almost complete creative freedom for his FX comedy “Louis.” According to online news sourceMinnpost, The show costs under $300,000 to make, is shot on a digital camera and edited on Louis’ Mac. How Louis works is certainly risky, but could inspire other artists and comedians to cut out the layers of production and legal issues utilizing new media tools and new models of production.
People of Earth (minus the ones who don’t give a shit about this): it’s been amazing to conduct this experiment with you. The experiment was: if I put out a brand new standup special at a drastically low price ($5) and make it as easy as possible to buy, download and enjoy, free of any restrictions, will everyone just go and steal it? Will they pay for it? And how much money can be made by an individual in this manner?
It’s been 4 days. A lot of people are asking me how it’s going. I’ve been hesitant to share the actual figures, because there’s power in exclusive ownership of information. What I didn’t expect when I started this was that people would not only take part in this experiment, they would be invested in it and it would be important to them. It’s been amazing to see people in large numbers advocating this idea. So I think it’s only fair that you get to know the results. Also, it’s just really cool and fun and I’m dying to tell everybody. I told my Mom, I told three friends, and that wasn’t nearly enough. So here it is.
First of all, this was a premium video production, shot with six cameras over two performances at the Beacon Theater, which is a high-priced elite Manhattan venue. I directed this video myself and the production of the video cost around $170,000. (This was largely paid for by the tickets bought by the audiences at both shows). The material in the video was developed over months on the road and has never been seen on my show (LOUIE) or on any other special. The risks were thus: every new generation of material I create is my income, it’s like a farmer’s annual crop. The time and effort on my part was far more than if I’d done it with a big company. If I’d done it with a big company, I would have a guarantee of a sizable fee, as opposed to this way, where I’m actually investing my own money.
The development of the website, which needed to be a very robust, reliable and carefully constructed website, was around $32,000. We worked for a number of weeks poring over the site to make sure every detail would give buyers a simple, optimal and humane experience for buying the video. I edited the video around the clock for the weeks between the show and the launch.
The show went on sale at noon on Saturday, December 10th. 12 hours later, we had over 50,000 purchases and had earned $250,000, breaking even on the cost of production and website. As of Today, we’ve sold over 110,000 copies for a total of over $500,000. Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58). This is less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you, but they would have charged you about $20 for the video. They would have given you an encrypted and regionally restricted video of limited value, and they would have owned your private information for their own use. They would have withheld international availability indefinitely. This way, you only paid $5, you can use the video any way you want, and you can watch it in Dublin, whatever the city is in Belgium, or Dubai. I got paid nice, and I still own the video (as do you). You never have to join anything, and you never have to hear from us again.
I really hope people keep buying it a lot, so I can have shitloads of money, but at this point I think we can safely say that the experiment really worked. If anybody stole it, it wasn’t many of you. Pretty much everybody bought it. And so now we all get to know that about people and stuff. I’m really glad I put this out here this way and I’ll certainly do it again. If the trend continues with sales on this video, my goal is that i can reach the point where when I sell anything, be it videos, CDs or tickets to my tours, I’ll do it here and I’ll continue to follow the model of keeping my price as far down as possible, not overmarketing to you, keeping as few people between you and me as possible in the transaction.
(Of course i reserve the right to go back on all of this and sign a massive deal with a company that pays me fat coin and charges you straight up the ass.). (This is you: yes Louie. And we’ll all enjoy torrenting that content. You fat sweaty dolt).
I probably sound kind of crazy right now. It’s been a really fun and intense few days. This video was paid for by people who bought tickets, and then bought by people who wanted to see that same show. I got to do exactly the show I wanted, and exactly the show you wanted.
I also got an education. And everything i learned are things i was happy to learn.
I learned that people are interested in what happens and shit (i didn’t go to college)
I learned that money can be a lot of things. It can be something that is hoarded, fought over, protected, stolen and withheld. Or it can be like an energy, fueled by the desire, will, creative interest, need to laugh, of large groups of people. And it can be shuffled and pushed around and pooled together to fuel a common interest, jokes about garbage, penises and parenthood.
I want to thank Blair Breard who produced this video and produces my series LOUIE, and I want to thank Caspar and Giles at Version Industries, who created the website.
I hope with all of my heart that I stay funny. Otherwise this all goes to hell. Please have a safe and happy holiday, and thank you again for all this crazy shit.
I swear this is the last time I’ll update on this.
$5 will let you stream the special, download the special, or both! This will not be available to purchase anywhere else nor will it be shown on television! It is full of brand new jokes. No old material! So the 96 of you that follow this blog go pay 5 bucks and support Louis! He’s not making thousands off of this. He’s making $5 a pop. Comedians don’t get paid shit, FYI, so go watch the damn thing!
The latest news in the world of Louis C.K. is a new comedy special. This special will only be available for viewing on his website on December 10 for $5 streaming or download.
Louis C. K., the star and creator of the FX series “Louie,” said in an interview with Mr. O’Brien that his upcoming concerts at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan on Nov. 10 would be recorded and then posted in an edited version on his Web site, louisck.net, on Dec. 10 where it can be viewed for a cost of $5.
Asked in a phone interview on Friday morning why he was not bringing the special to a traditional cable television network, Louis C. K. said: “To me, I flip the question over: Why should I go through a cable network when I can just give it directly to the people who want to see it? It’s so much easier, and it’s an interesting experiment.”
Louis C. K. has been featured in the standup specials “Shameless,” which ran on HBO in 2007, and the Emmy Award-nominated “Chewed Up,” which appeared on Showtime in 2008. His most recent standup show, “Hilarious,”was presented at the Sundance Film Festival and picked up by the Epix cable channel, earning him two more Emmy nominations.
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