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.