Could Louis C.K. Make His TV Show Using The Direct-To-Fan Model?

from the yup,-probably dept

Last week, in one of their daily roundups, the folks at AVClub made a passing comment about Louis C.K.'s cable television show Louie:

you still have to subscribe to a cable package that features FX in order to watch the season premiere of Louie tonight—but the way things are going, he’ll eventually find a way around that as well.

It's half a joke, and not intended as a serious near-future prediction, but it nevertheless raises an interesting question: have we reached the point where a show of that caliber could be made independently? Louie is a fairly inexpensive show—the season two budget was $300,000 per episode, with an additional $200,000 spent on a particularly ambitious outing, so that season cost a little over $4-million. C.K. has leveraged his network of friends (and quasi-enemies) in the comedy industry, plus lots of production shortcuts and personal licensing deals for music, to accomplish some impressive feats with that cash—and the show is widely praised by critics and fans (though there are dissenters). Moreover, unlike some shows that arguably benefit from the design-by-committee nature of some TV networks, Louie is already helmed entirely by C.K., who has almost complete creative control.

So... We know Louis C.K. pulled $1 million in just a few days by selling a single comedy special directly to fans. We know he's made $6 million in a week selling tickets to his tour. We know creators can raise millions on Kickstarter. We've seen established Hollywood talent combine crowdfunding with private investment to escape the studio system. There's little doubt that, with some combination of these models and other innovative ideas, someone like Louis C.K. could put together a show like Louie without any network support and distribute it entirely through the internet (and any TV networks that wanted to license it—on his terms).

I'm not suggesting Louis C.K. has any particular desire or reason to do this with Louie right now—it's my understanding that FX has been extremely supportive and treated him really well. But, realistically, how long will it take before someone does this? All the mechanisms are in place, or nearly so, and the media buzz around things like Kickstarter and C.K.'s direct-sale experiments has inspired a lot of entertainers to start considering alternative business models. It could even be C.K. himself who eventually leads the way again: while Louie is going great right now, he frequently mentions in both his comedy and interviews that he knows the show and his current status won't last forever—and I can't help but assume that part of the reason he's been running these recent sales experiments is that he's a very smart guy who sees what's happening in the industry and is trying to future-proof his career. If something were to happen and Louie was cancelled prematurely, I wouldn't be surprised to see C.K. and his fans finding a way to keep it going on their own. Though he hasn't actually said as much, a recent interview suggests the possibility can't be far from his mind:

The show has been a precious thing to me, and it’s been something I’m horribly grateful for. It’s just such a big deal to me that I’m getting to do this. I’m aware of how fleeting it is. I’m aware that, at best, it’ll go eight years, and that a year after those eight years are over, it’ll feel like a distant memory. I’m aware of that.

That’s one reason that I’m working really hard on it. I’m physically pretty banged up from this season from shit that I did. I fucking jumped into a boat that was 10 feet off a dock, and I really hurt my knee. I’ve taken such a beating. But I do it because I know I’m not going to get an opportunity to do this for very long. This is going to feel like it was only a few years as soon as it’s over. I’m trying to really slow down time while it’s going on. And it’s really important to me that I earn it, that I earn what I’ve got in front of me by doing the show as well as possible. So that’s how I feel about it. It’s a big fucking deal. The web thing was a huge euphoria. It was a crazy feeling. It was like physically altering. Looking at my phone and watching the sales come, like a thousand per fucking minute, was insane. I was in a bathroom at LAX, looking at the sales for the web thing on my phone, and I started laughing. I couldn’t control it. And I realized I was laughing like Laurence Olivier when he’s getting his diamonds in the bank in Marathon Man. [Laughs.] He just starts giggling, like, “I can’t believe what’s happening here.” And I had a similar moment like that these last two days, because I put all these tickets on sale [for the upcoming tour] on the Internet in the same way, and it’s crazy. It’s gangbusters. I mean, half the tour is sold out, and we’ve added shows in like eight cities.

Critics of new entertainment business models like to suggest that quality content can't be produced without the financial backing that can only come from studios, networks, record labels and other big businesses, and they tend to dismiss every counter-example as somehow inferior art—but that's an increasingly untenable position. Not only is quality content already being produced in new ways, but the stage is set for even bigger and more expensive projects. And considering how new some of these models are and how rapidly they've grown, if we're already at the point where a show like Louie could probably be made outside the traditional ecosystem, is it really so inconceivable that one day in the near future even things like Game of Thrones and the red-herring of the $200 million movie could break free as well? A Kickstarter for a movie that hits the hundreds of millions sounds impossible now—but it wasn't that long ago that $10-million for a watch, $3 million for a video game or $1 million for an album were considered just as unrealistic. And that's just Kickstarter, not direct sales of the finished product or any of the other moneymaking opportunities that a piece of entertainment creates. When you think about it that way, it seems like it's only a matter of time.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 6:40pm

    I don't see why not. Most of the stuff I watch is internet based, fan supported only.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 6:58pm

    So far there is little indication that people will pay past the first little bit. Almost every example online so far has been a one off, a flash in the pan. At some point, perhaps it will work. But considering the ongoing costs to produce shows, the risk factors are pretty high when it comes to this financing model.

    It's amusing to think about, but it would seem that this type of payment system would work in the long run.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      dwg (profile), Jul 6th, 2012 @ 7:05pm

      Re:

      I can't tell if you mean "would" or "wouldn't." Are you optimistic?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 8:21pm

      Re:

      I don't think you understand.

      People would pay for another season of Firefly and when that is finished, they'd pay for another, and another. Enough? Maybe not....yet.

      The fact is most people have never even heard of kickstarter. Watch that change the first time a tv show with a cult following is cancelled by a network and resurected by crowd sourcing.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 9:11pm

        Re: Re:

        You forget that there is the other side to the deal. Right now, "pay to support" is a new concept, and people are doing it because it's a trending concept. But those people will soon forget to make a payment, enjoy the stuff anyway, and they will turn away from actually paying.

        At some point, the business model fails because the consumers can consumer without supporting, so they may stop doing it.

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 9:26pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Strange, seems to work fine despite the consuming part. Maybe you're just a sociopath who thinks everybody is like you.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 6th, 2012 @ 9:32pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          In other words: "I refuse to budge until you can guarantee that all piracy, everywhere, is stopped."

          Enjoy catatonia.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2012 @ 12:18am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Huh? Where the heck did you get that?

            Talk about a moronic attempt to hijack a thread.

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              icon
              Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 9:55am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              AC said:

              "At some point, the business model fails because the consumers can consumer without supporting, so they may stop doing it."

              He's looking at actual concrete success stories and dismissing them just because piracy is still out there and he's sure it will eventually cripple them. Translation: "I'm not interested in any new business models until piracy is stopped."

              (p.s. I don't think it's possible for me to "hijack" the thread on my own post)

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              •  
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2012 @ 10:05am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                You are truly off your nut. I am not talking about piracy, I am talking about what people will pay for, when they have alternatives in the long run.

                Specifically, they may pay today to support the L-CK show, but will they pay for the next episode? What happens if they miss paying for an episode, watch it anyway, and realize that "hey, I don't have to pay for this, someone else will"?

                What you have is a system that depends on consumers to tip, and nothing more. Will enough of them keep tipping in the long run to make it really work?

                Look, I can run across an interstate blindly, and perhaps make it to the other side. If I do, would you consider it enough of a success to install a crosswalk there?

                 

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                •  
                  icon
                  ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 10:19am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Specifically, they may pay today to support the L-CK show, but will they pay for the next episode?

                  I don't think you understand how Kickstarter works. Projects are financed ahead of time (e.g., JourneyQuest). So, if they don't meet their goal, it doesn't happen.

                   

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                •  
                  icon
                  Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 10:20am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  What you have is a system that depends on consumers to tip, and nothing more. Will enough of them keep tipping in the long run to make it really work?

                  Ask a career waitress.

                   

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                •  
                  icon
                  Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 10:23am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  Of course, more importantly, I don't know where you get the idea that it's all "tips". Yes, some of the cash flow comes from people expressing a desire to support the artist when they know they don't have to -- but if you look at all the models I'm talking about, a lot of them involve offering genuine reasons to buy too.

                  So let me get this straight. Giving content away for free and selling other stuff won't work -- you always mock that idea. But actually selling content won't work unless there is no free alternative, because you "can't compete with free" apparently. And combining those models won't work either because... ?

                  Certainly sounds to me like you have only ONE point to make: that you aren't interested in any new business models until piracy is stopped.

                  What else could you possibly be talking about?

                   

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  •  
                    identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2012 @ 7:20pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    "So let me get this straight. Giving content away for free and selling other stuff won't work -- you always mock that idea"

                    I always mock that idea? Do you have any clue?

                    Giving stuff away and selling other stuff works, provided that (a) what you are giving away isn't your main product, and (b) what you are trying to sell is desirable enough in itself to sell anyway - which to a certain extent negates A.

                    "Certainly sounds to me like you have only ONE point to make: that you aren't interested in any new business models until piracy is stopped."

                    Nobody mention piracy except you. Perhaps you should stop trying to paint your own views on to others and grow up.

                     

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    •  
                      icon
                      PaulT (profile), Jul 8th, 2012 @ 1:34am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Personally, I love the way that idiots who don't provide a name get offended when they get confused with other idiots who don't provide names...

                       

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                         
                        identicon
                        Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2012 @ 5:47am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        I guess you don't get offended because you are an idiot with a name. Congrats on the upgrade from moron.

                         

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    •  
                      icon
                      Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 8th, 2012 @ 1:49am

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                      Nobody mention piracy except you. Perhaps you should stop trying to paint your own views on to others and grow up.

                      Okay - so then please explain to me what you mean when you talk about your concern that people can still get stuff for free. If it's not piracy, I would very much like to know - where's the site where I can get everything for free legally?

                      Oh right, you were talking about piracy all along. Nice attempt at evasion though.

                       

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                      •  
                        identicon
                        Anonymous Coward, Jul 8th, 2012 @ 5:50am

                        Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                        "Okay - so then please explain to me what you mean when you talk about your concern that people can still get stuff for free. If it's not piracy, I would very much like to know - where's the site where I can get everything for free legally?"

                        If people are paying to be patrons of a sort, to pay for CK to make his TV series, do you think he would limit it onto to them? Or would it be something that is widely distributed, under the concept of crowd sourced funding rather than sale before production.

                        It's more likely that the product would be distributed in some manner of public viewing, free and legally. Perhaps over the air TV or on YouTube. You know about those things, don't you?

                        You have no imagination at all.

                        You are the only one talking about piracy. Get a clue, moron.

                         

                        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                        •  
                          icon
                          Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 8th, 2012 @ 9:32am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                          Um, if giving it away for free was going to cripple the business model, why would he do that?

                          Once again, you were clearly talking about piracy. Keep trying to worm out of it though.

                           

                          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                        •  
                          icon
                          Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 8th, 2012 @ 9:33am

                          Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                          and, once again, at NO point did I suggest that he should just launch a Kickstarter and call it a day. Clearly the project would require a more nuanced strategy - and I even explicitly said that it's likely to combine crowdfunding with direct sales.

                          You're the one who needs some imagination!

                           

                          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 10:33pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          At some point, the business model fails because the consumers can consumer without supporting, so they may stop doing it.

          How large is the crystal ball in your world?

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          PaulT (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 1:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Ah, the AC prediction engine. Pick out the worst possible conclusion, pretend that t's fact and ignore any other possibility. This model will fail because AC has decreed it, nobody else's opinion matters, right?

          "At some point, the business model fails because the consumers can consumer without supporting, so they may stop doing it"

          This happens now, yet you don't question the viability of the business model. I wonder why you apply different standards to the new business models that are making piracy irrelevant?

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      PaulT (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 1:39am

      Re:

      Ah, so we're moving ever closer to acceptance. We're past the "nobody will pay" stage, past the "this won't work for established artists" and past "nothing of quality can be produced". We're now into "this won't work long term". I presume this is just to buy you some time since any business model takes some years to prove itself - as the traditional models had to at some point.

      Will you people start agreeing in a few years when some artists have leveraged new models into ongoing bodies of work? I doubt it, but you're running out of excuses.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2012 @ 10:05am

        Re: Re:

        As always Paul, you cannot see the other side. Blinded by one too many nights in those Spanish bars?

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          SujaOfJauhnral (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 6:04pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          He can see the "other side". MAFIAA and shills of MAFIAA, however, cannot.

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        •  
          icon
          PaulT (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 6:18pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Other side? no tell me what that is! I see idiots let me know what I'm missing.....

           

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2012 @ 9:28pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Where to start? There is so much to explain to your feeble mind.

            Let's start with the basics. There is no "moving closer to acceptance". There is still plenty of proof that few people will pay (effectively that nobody will pay). Many of the business models put forth on Techdirt are built on finding one person to pay a higher price, in order to support the rest of the people who don't pay - but who still get the product.

            "this won't work for established artists" - Nobody has said this. You are just making crap up.

            "nothing of quality can be produced" - We aren't seeing huge increases in quality content, but we are seeing huge increases in content. Therefore, it's pretty easy to draw the conclusion that LITTLE (not nothing) of quality is being produced. Try not to work in absolutes there Paul, and you might understand better.

            "this won't work long term" - this is a key question, one that remains unanswered. What happens when the majority of content is paid for not through group / bulk means (commercial ads, subscription fees, retail sales) and rather is paid for if the end consumer feels like it, even after they have consumed the product (or can consume it without charge)?

            Could a company like HBO produce the level of content they produce and get the distribution for it on the basis of people paying what they want? Could they support a business model that requires them to finance each TV show (and perhaps even each episode) with the public? Will the public deal with this on an ongoing basis, or will they get a version of donor fatigue, and just stop paying attention?

            Will the public want to spend a certain percentage of their potential relaxation time going through proposals and financing them?

            Remember, between movies, tv, music, and all those other arts you are looking at tens if not hundreds of thousands of proposals. Do you think the general public has the time or the desire to do this?

            Now, you can you open you mind up, and grok some of this stuff, you may understand why it's not exactly a given. It's called the other side, away from the wishful thinking and into the dull, boring, crappy reality of things.

             

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              icon
              Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 8th, 2012 @ 1:58am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              We aren't seeing huge increases in quality content, but we are seeing huge increases in content.

              What a sad, sad world you live in. Having heard this statement, I genuinely pity you. You think there are no increases in quality content? Sad, sad, sad... Good luck living a fulfilling life with that mentality.

              Could a company like HBO produce the level of content they produce and get the distribution for it on the basis of people paying what they want? Could they support a business model that requires them to finance each TV show (and perhaps even each episode) with the public?

              Yes. Don't believe it? Shame. That means you'll be left behind (and embarrassed) when it happens. That makes me sad - just like I'm sad that T-Rex's and Brachyosaurs don't roam the countryside, because that would be awesome. Goodbye dinosaur - I promise to shed a single, profound tear.

              Now, you can you open you mind up, and grok some of this stuff, you may understand why it's not exactly a given. It's called the other side, away from the wishful thinking and into the dull, boring, crappy reality of things.

              Sorry, no. I like "wishful thinking" - because it's amazing how often the wishes come true. Our cultural commons never ceases to appall me, but it never ceases to amaze me either. You go ahead and enjoy your pessimism - I'll stay over here on the side of pragmatism+optimism, where things are both brighter and more effective.

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            •  
              identicon
              Anonymous Coward, Jul 9th, 2012 @ 2:00am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Why does reality have to be crappy? What's wrong with trying to improve on things instead of sticking to crappy reality?

               

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Gareth, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 7:19pm

    Oh look, another Anonymous Coward who thinks that it's "a one off, a flash in the pan."

    I'm so surprised.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Gareth, Jul 6th, 2012 @ 7:29pm

    It's actually already happening -- a group of SF TV veterans are producing a new property called "Space Command" via Kickstarter:

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/58936338/space-command

    Not perhaps as high-profile as will eventually occur, but another domino to fall.


    When this sort of thing starts happening regularly, it's going to be in the "nerdsphere" -- fan-driven properties are in their natural habitat there. We geeks are tired of our favorite shows being cancelled because they don't appeal to Mom & Pop Nielsen Family in Lower Stumblebum, Iowa. Give the community the chance to directly fund it, and we'll never worry about cancellation again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Josef Anvil (profile), Jul 6th, 2012 @ 10:45pm

    Greed vs Convenience

    "I'm not suggesting Louis C.K. has any particular desire or reason to do this with Louie right now—it's my understanding that FX has been extremely supportive and treated him really well."

    The only real reason for Louie CK to DIY the show would be to make more money for himself. FX doesn't treat him well because they are just all around nice and love his company. They are parasites that offer him convenience. All Louis CK is proving to the world is that people do want to pay artists, they just don't give a shit about gatekeepers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 9:51am

      Re: Greed vs Convenience

      I have a hard time describing FX as "parasites". Sure, in the long run they want to make money, and yeah I think that increasingly the role they play isn't going to be all that important. But, at the moment, a lot of creators I have respect have offered that network a lot of praise for giving them control and letting them try things out - things that don't actually make a lot of money, and which most networks would never let happen.

      I'm thinking largely of Louie, Archer and It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia -- the people behind all those shows have nothing but kind words for FX, and it doesn't sound like they're just buttering up the bosses. All three of those shows are fucking weird and never would have made it past the pitch meeting at most other networks.

      All I'm saying is: FX doesn't seem too bad as gatekeepers go. In fact it seems like they really want to be enablers as much as possible, and they actually do display some genuine respect for the integrity of the creators they work with. CK certainly doesn't have any problem with them - as he said in the same recent interview linked in the post, his direct sale experiments have nothing to do with "sticking it to the man" and are all about "providing an alternative"

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 1:28am

    See, this is one of the ultimate paradoxes by Fox: their FX label has some interestign and highly innovative ideas: for example The Booth at the End a series of short interactions between a guy in the eponymous booth in a diner and the people that come to him. Things like Louie, that is somewhat amusing for me.

    And yet, they're owned by one fo the biggest asshats in the business who doesn't grok (via intent or otherwise) the promotional value of the Internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 7th, 2012 @ 8:05am

      How Dare You Say That!

      they're owned by one fo the biggest asshats in the business

      Wrong.

      They're (ultimately) owned by one of the most evil anti-human fascist sob bastards on the planet and enemy of all mankind (even those to effing g-d stupid to realize it).

      Got it?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Tony MC (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 7:37am

    Come on Mike, you know the drill - it will only work for Louis CK.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    SkipM (profile), Jul 7th, 2012 @ 10:48am

    Critics of new entertainment business models

    These critics had genetic forebears when the printing press first came into use.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Gareth, Jul 7th, 2012 @ 10:55am

    AC clearly doesn't understand how things like Kickstarter work.

    They wouldn't be paying per-episode, they'd be asked to fund an entire season, in advance -- with perks (depending on buy-in level) beyond just the episodes (behind-the-scenes access, limited merch, etc.). If the funding is successful, everybody gets the extras they purchased, PLUS an entire season of a show.

    When it's time to do the next season, you do it again.

    Given the non-big-name successes where THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING, you cannot sit back and say "it wouldn't work."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Mwhahaha, Jul 8th, 2012 @ 2:27pm

    Sure one guy or even a few shows can do it, but can every show?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This