Building off a valuable and enviable database, C.K. offered the premiere episode for a fiver, and episode two for a deuce. Future episodes will be priced at $3.
In this tremendously savvy exercise, C.K. is mining an email list of folks who had paid five bucks for his comedy special four years ago and bought tickets to his concerts, along with C.K. swag. (It’s estimated he grossed more than $1 million and made about $750,000 on his self-produced and self-distributed concert special, plus revenue from subsequent windows on FX and Netflix.)
The idea is to own and control everything. What a novel concept!
It’s also a sophisticated digital roll of the dice, based on past performance, that there’s enough engagement with paying customers who will fund the dramedy -- which, by the way, is about two barkeeps, played by C.K. and Steve Buscemi, with Alan Alda as their dad.
Presumably, this deal got the buy-in from Buscemi and Alda, as well as guest stars like Jessica Lange, Edie Falco and “Louis” collaborator Steven Wright -- and wait, what’s more, a theme song penned by Paul Simon. All are seemingly working at rates significantly below their network or Netflix quotes. My educated guess is they’ve all joined in part inspired by Louie's creative chops and his status as a digital rebel, and maybe a little beak-wetting taste of the back-end.
C.K. noted on his Web site with characteristic subtlety that the show was “f---ing expensive,” but didn’t outline the financials. “Basically this is a handmade, one-guy-paid-for-it version of a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation,” he said, noting the value of being able to distribute the episodes as soon as they are completed, which is impossible with his FX sitcom “Louie.”
“I’m making this show as you’re watching it,” he wrote. “Making this show and just posting it out of the blue gave me the rare opportunity to give you that experience of discovery.”
What we’re seeing in play is a performer’s transparency with his fans of a special, virtuous business model, one that says: “I’m giving you full value for your entertainment dollar.” The not-so-hidden message is, “I’m not going to gouge you, so please don’t pirate my stuff.”
It is also a way for C.K. to grow an increasingly valuable database, as well as his brand. And this powerful brand presents a sterling opportunity for the right advertisers who want to bask in the aura of his authenticity and paying fans.
If I were a green energy company -- or better yet, an educational advocacy organization, since Louie has been an outspoken advocate of wise educational reform -- I’d make a call. And wouldn’t everybody benefit? Why couldn’t CK take an NPR or PBS approach to sponsorship and bring the price point down just a drop -- given no change in the creative process? Just saying.
Still, that kind of sponsorship isn't necessary. I know, because I’m one of those folks who is ready to buy into the Louis C.K digital artisanal model just as it is.