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Thursday December 15, 2011 8:12 am

Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theater video experiment is a huge hit

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Home Entertainment, Internet

Days after comedian Louis C.K. launched his content and distribution experiment, the results are in, and it appears that he may have inadvertently kicked off a new era of celebrity-controlled Internet content.

On Dec. 10, C.K. offered his one-hour "Live at the Beacon Theater" show for streaming or download for $5, free of any digital rights management (DRM). The move received a lot of attention via traditional and social media, but the main question on everyone's mind was: How will a show delivered directly from a niche comedian do when offered without the marketing muscle and distribution controls of a major company like HBO or Comedy Central?

According to data posted on C.K.'s Web site, the experiment pulled in a $200,000 profit.

"I directed this video myself and the production of the video cost around $170,000…The development of the website was around $32,000…The show went on sale at noon on Saturday, December 10th," he wrote. "12 hours later, we had over 50,000 purchases and had earned $250,000, breaking even on the cost of production and website. As of [December 13, 2011], we've sold over 110,000 copies for a total of over $500,000. Minus some money for PayPal charges etc, I have a profit around $200,000…"

Our original calculation figured that, given the size of his audience and online presence, C.K. might earn at least $400,000 from a show that sold for $5 per viewer. He actually beat that figure by $100,000, and that is just in the first few days. The special is still for sale and will likely experience additional sales in the next few weeks, if not months. Another central question surrounding this experiment has to do with why C.K. engaged in it at all, considering the fact that he has a hit TV show and major televised specials in his past.

C.K.'s representatives declined to comment on that point, but a recent conversation on NPR does offer a clue. Speaking with radio host Terry Gross, C.K. said, "This is my fourth full-hour special. The first two I did for cable, one for HBO and one for Showtime. Those were traditional. The cable network pays for the production, they give you a little bit of money, and then it goes on the air. Then they put it on video, on iTunes, Netflix, and DVD, and then they go try and make a profit with it. [I'm] supposed to participate in that profit, but I've never seen a check from a comedy special. It never ends up being that."

So while C.K. has gone on record that he doesn't rule out ever selling this new special to a traditional distribution company, his answers, and the accompanying revenue from his barebones production, indicate that this is probably just the first in a long series of independently released online shows from the comedian. In addition to taking back control of the revenue mechanisms involved in distributing content, C.K. is also testing the boundaries of international content licensing. On his site the comedian says, "you can use the video any way you want, and you can watch it in Dublin, whatever the city is in Belgium, or Dubai." This flies in the face of years of tightly controlled regional licensing, digital rights management (DRM), and country-specific online viewing restrictions.

To promote his show, meanwhile, C.K. appeared on Reddit yesterday to answer fans' questions; the full conversation is available on the site.

You can be sure Hollywood is watching closely, but will C.K.'s success prompt more well-known celebrities to give independent Internet content distribution a try? When you consider that two of Amazon's top 10 best-selling e-books this year were from self-published authors ("The Abbey" by Chris Culver, and "The Mill River Recluse" by Darcie Chan), it appears that audiences might finally be ready for the era of direct creator-to-consumer relationships.

This article, written by Adario Strange, originally appeared on PCMag.com and is republished on Gear Live with the permission of Ziff Davis, Inc.

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