The Raw Power Of Louis CK: Even HBO Is Opening The Garden Gates

from the lessons-learned dept

Yesterday, Louis CK announced the seemingly impossible: his next comedy special will air on HBO, and also be available as a DRM-free download like his revolutionary Beacon Theatre show. Yes, even the network so infamous for its tight grip on content that fans have literally begged it to take their money can’t ignore the overwhelming success of CK’s open, inexpensive, highly accessible approach to content distribution.

So far there aren’t many details on the arrangement, except that the DRM-free option will cost $5 and be available on CK’s website “a few months” after the initial HBO airing. Now, of course, this is the very definition of a “release window” and thus far from a perfect situation, but it’s still an astonishing step (in the right direction) for the notoriously controlling HBO. Traditionally, the network’s content has only been available to cable subscribers or, much later, on physical media and in major digital media stores like iTunes — despite countless fans asking for an affordable, timely standalone digital option.

As we have often said, there is still lots of room for the traditional “middlemen” of the entertainment industry if they act as enablers and not as gatekeepers. While HBO is still keeping the gate by windowing the release, this move shows that they may be beginning to recognize the change in their role: they are highly experienced at producing comedy specials and can do a lot to enable even the most talented and self-sufficient comedians — but they wouldn’t be able to strike a deal with someone like Louis CK if they insisted on having total control over the final product, since he’s already clearly demonstrated that he doesn’t need them for that. Indeed, if you compare this to Trent Reznor’s new non-traditional label deal, it seems like we are seeing the beginnings of a trend: artists who have struck out on their own and succeeded are now bringing the lessons they’ve learned back to the big gatekeepers, and using their cultural clout and their proof-of-concept experiments to change the way business is done. That’s encouraging, and exciting — for all the protestations from industry incumbents that they are trying to save artists, it may end up being smart artists who save the incumbents.

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Comments on “The Raw Power Of Louis CK: Even HBO Is Opening The Garden Gates”

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out_of_the_blue says:

And the "new" here is what, again?

“can’t ignore the overwhelming success of CK’s open, inexpensive, highly accessible approach to content distribution. … be available on CK’s website “a few months” after the initial HBO airing.”

But won’t be distributed outside of that by pirates?

Anyhoo, same basic system as the last 50 years. Apparently you’re of the notion that HBO has been doing it wrong by limiting access, or that this particular performer is the first to force a studio / system to give him more play with specials, or that the studio on its own can’t recognize a cash cow and dabble at marketing him more.

It’s become amazing that Mike and his unpaid minions can pretend to find something new to trumpet about very slow changes in the entertainment industry. It just lurches along on the star system, not much different in the last 100 years except for the physical or broadcast medium.

Listen, guys, “DRM-free” is NOT free. “Inexpensive” ($5!) is not free. I’m still waiting for content to be made freely available — I mean full-length high-cost or high-value productions — which would fulfill the state that Mike promised since bandwidth is to him the only relevant cost (as he ignores “sunk (or fixed) costs”. Until then, I say it’s not going to happen, and THIS piece only proves my notions more than does yours.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: And the "new" here is what, again?

(I just put $5 into my “I will not feed the trolls” jar, so, here goes)

Has HBO ever shown something to which they do not have total control? (I believe the answer is a resounding “no”, but feel free to disprove this assertion.) Louis CK maintains control to distribute his way (cheap, online, sans DRM) after an agreed upon contractual window has passed.

Who said it wouldn’t be pirated? Of course it will be pirated; anything which is good enough to be shared is pirated and shared. The real shame would be if it was so bad that nobody pirated it. The real question should be: how many of those pirates will become paying customers? (See: Batman, highest grossing && most pirated film) Piracy acts as an enhancer; good things get more money (eg “this is awesome, let’s go see it in the theatre!”) and piss-poor things get less money (eg “glad I didn’t pay to see that piece of shyte!”)

DRM-free and “free” are not the same words (duh).

Your rather formulaic ad-hom is getting stale and dried-out, not unlike the aforementioned shyte. Please try harder, we expect greater quality from trolls and shills on this site.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And the "new" here is what, again?

Mike has never said things have to be free, he has repeatedly pointed out however that you can make a lot of money by providing people with what they want at a reasonable price point despite copyright infringement.

This goes partway but misses the point.
It will be available at a price many believe to be reasonable but by windowing it they are simply ensuring that there will be a month when the only option to many will be the illegal non revenue generating source and is unfortunately Louis throwing away a months worth of sales, presumably at the request of HBO.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: And the "new" here is what, again?

“But won’t be distributed outside of that by pirates?”

Of course it will. These articles here tend to be about how to monetize content despite the existence of piracy, not the obsessive, unworkable, failed quest to “stop piracy” that you morons have committed yourself to. Yet again, you fail to understand the most basic points.

“Anyhoo, same basic system as the last 50 years.”

Apart from the DRM free, reasonably priced download that the article is talking about, of course. AFAIK this is the first time a major broadcaster have offered such a thing online for a current product. But, you will ignore that too, especially since that’s all most people have really been asking for since the beginning. Get rid of that pesky release window, and you have what people want.

“Listen, guys, “DRM-free” is NOT free. “Inexpensive” ($5!) is not free.”

Only in your deranged mind did anyone claim it was.

“he state that Mike promised since bandwidth is to him the only relevant cost (as he ignores “sunk (or fixed) costs”.”

…and cap it up with not only a blatant lie but an attack on someone who didn’t write the article you;re responding to.

Classy as ever, dumbass.

Joe B says:


I expect the DRM-free download to sell comparably little, and precisely because of the windowed release. Like it or not, people want their content immediately. And so if they can’t catch it on/via HBO, they will get it the only other way — pirated download (which is bound to show up fast). By the time the windowed release happens, there will be far less demand than there was for the legitimate download of the Beacon Theatre show, for which you had this option from day one. There CK’s appeal to not pirate it had much more (rhetorical, not necessarily logical) force.

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