Lessons From Louis C.K.'s Digital Success
Louis C.K.'s recent digital comedy event should make the likes of every semi-recognized TV performer and producer sit up and take notice. But not much beyond that.
Recently, viewers spent $5 for simple digital access to watch his comedy performance at the Beacon Theater. Louis C.K. told The New York Times he pulled in 1 million people. With production costs coming to $250,000, that meant he profited some $750,000. Easy entertainment math.
Perhaps the better part of this story is that Louis C.K. was open about these entertainment financial specifics. Hmm... how often do you see an Ashton Kutcher, Julianna Margulies, Piers Morgan or Kim Kardashian explain in detail their TV production financial specifics?
We have a good idea why. Doing a one-time-only stand-up is very different from doing 22 hour or half-hour TV episodes for a broadcast or cable network.
Louis C.K. disclosed why he was persuaded to reveal all: His mother said to tell everyone everything. All this can't be said of "Louie" on FX. We don't know those financial details. But, of course, FX and its parent News Corp. have a say in that, given their ownership.
We know there is a long way to go here. Remember how production company Prospect Park seemingly couldn't do the obvious? It couldn't take those fan-devoted and cancelled long-time ABC soaps,"All My Children" and "One Life to Live" and covert them into first-run digital TV series. No doubt the complexity of production craft unions made this tough to work out, as well as other rights holders and interested parties.
This always seems to be the promise of the Internet -- entertainment going right to consumers without the middlemen of networks, cable operators, satellite or telco.
But a lot of stuff still gets in the way of seeing digital adoption of big entertainment events on a more wide-spread basis. There are long-term contracts everywhere and long-term relationships -- everything from agents who have a specific interest in keeping older business relationships to entrenched TV distributors who still have serious clout.
Of course, Louis C.K.’s event had simplicity in its favor -- the $5 price and no long-term entertainment commitment. We, as viewers, increasingly also like these short-term, little risk options. That's because we may love you one minute and hate you the next.