Comedian Louis CK confronts piracy head on with digital experiment

first_imgIt’s pretty safe to say that the one group of people that seem to be both overlooked and at the same time the vulnerable in the “war on piracy” are comedians. These entertainers need to create original content in order to stay relevant, and that content is a product of weeks of research and creative writing. When a comic takes the stage, what you are watching is the combined effort weeks of research, memorization, and delivery. If that person is lucky the work on that particular set will be usable for few months of live tours, and then possibly a DVD release.I follow more than a few comics across the various social networks, and every once in a while I see a burst of frustration when someone records their work on the first night of a new set and immediately uploads it to YouTube. Not only does it expose the performance to the rest of the world, but it does so in the quality of the average cell phone being held at a night club. When the one hour comedy set finally does get released to DVD, the production company releases it for $20 due to the expenses, like those that go in to securing the content to minimize further piracy. The end result of those security efforts can be seen on most piracy websites only hours after a DVD has been released, and now the comedy set is free to anyone who knows how to get it.It’s a tough scenario to be put in, and there’s not any real solution so long as you plan to continue releasing content in teh traditional means. If you really want to combat piracy, make the content just as easy to get, and don’t include any of the digital rights management nonsense. At least, that’s what the pirates say is necessary to keep most people from doing the deed. It’s a fairly significant gamble, but comedian Louis C.K. stepped up to call the bluff.In an extended note earlier this week Louis C.K. described his intent to release a comedy set that he had only just recorded, that had never been released on DVD. For $5, you would be able to stream the show two times, and download it three times. The show was made available in HD or SD (based on user preference), and the file was completely free of any digital rights management (DRM). The show would either sell or it would be quickly uploaded to every piracy site in the world and nobody would pay for it.This was a fairly significant gamble for Louis C.K., but one that sent a clear message calling out those who continue to justify piracy by saying that it is easier to get online in the format of their choosing. The second part of this gamble is testing exactly how much profit can be made from online sales versus DVD sales. This set, Live at the Beacon Theater, isn’t available in stores. The only place you can buy this comedy set is from his website, and there is no option to purchase a DVD.It did not take long for Louis C.K. to see results.  In a new statement he released only four days later, C.K. explains that the video he sold cost him about $170,000 to make. The cost of making this video was largely offset by the tickets sold at the two sets he did at the Beacon, but for all intents and purposes he paid for the video to be produces out of his pocket. He further explains that the content in this show was exclusive, he had never used any of it in previous sets, or on his TV series.He continued to explain that he spent an additional $32,000 on having the website built to handle the load of customers downloading the movie or streaming it. Every effort was made to make the buying and watching experience as simple as possible. Not counting his time editing the video and testing the site, this gamble was already costing him over $200,000. Within 12 hours of the site going live on December 10th, over 50,000 copies had been sold, allowing him to break even on the costs so far. Under 72 hours later, the site had seen over 130,000 purchases.He noticed that this was still less than he would have made from a deal with a distribution company but this method helps the fans by giving them a more usable, more available file. Louis C.K. clearly feels that this was already a success, and more sales are coming in every minute. One thought from his statement that stuck with me was “You never have to join anything, and you never have to hear from us again.”The experiment was successful, but it remains to be seen whether or not this will have any actual impact on the industry. Even if more comedians take the same route as Louis C.K., there’s no real incentive for this to be implemented anywhere else. As he said, if he had left all of this to a production company he’d have made more money, spent less time, and wouldn’t have had to think about it twice. The content would have been pirated, and the circle would have continued.This was a significant proof of concept, in my opinion, that the process of releasing content without all of the mess in between can work, but it’s not likely to change how things work anytime soon.last_img

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