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.

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Companies: fx, kickstarter

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

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40 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 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?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Gareth (user link) says:

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.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

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.

The eejit (profile) says:

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.

Gareth (user link) says:

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.”

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