Chill, a social video platform with close to 20 million users, has launched Chill Direct, a new store for creatives like Maria Bamford and Michael Urie to sell their movies, specials and documentaries directly to fans.
Comedian Louis C.K. sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry this summer by selling a comedy special directly online rather than making a distribution deal with a television network or online service. He made millions, and various others have followed suit, including Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari.
Chill sees an opportunity to enter this emerging market, empowering artists and offering them an opportunity to control the distribution and monetization of their ongoing projects.
“The community gives filmmakers and comedians the ability to distribute premium video directly to fans,” CEO Brian Norgard told TheWrap. “The common analogy is to Louis C.K. and his ‘Live at Beacon Theater.’ That was a seminal moment in the entertainment business and a lot of things now allow direct-to-fan to become a viable model.”
Artists who choose to sell through Chill also can sell their videos elsewhere, but Chill Direct launches with eight videos exclusive to the site. That slate includes “Maria Bamford: the Special Special Special!,” an hour-long comedy special starring Bamford, “Thank You For Judging,” a documentary from “Ugly Betty” actor Urie about high school speech and debate and “Unknown Sender,” a suspense series from “48 Hrs” and “Die Hard” scribe Stephen E. de Souza.
Starting Thursday, any artist can create a page for a project and has complete creative control over the page, from information about the project to trailers to pricing. Meanwhile, Chill handles distribution across devices as well as payments.
Artists retain rights to their own intellectual property while Chill takes a 30 percent cut of any transaction.
“What Chill does is let anyone build out socially integrated marketing pages — we call them story pages — beautiful, high-resolution tantalizing receptacles of premium videos,” Norgard said.
Chill, funded by WME and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and others, has previously enabled frictionless uploading, consumption and sharing of the web’s most popular videos. This maintains a social layer, allowing for commenting and offering bundles that combine the video with other perks like merchandise or meeting the creator.
“The land of premium video is still a very closed marketplace,” Norgard said. “If you have tremendous business development skills or connections to sell a film to Netflix or Hulu, you’re lucky. The ad-supported model doesn’t fit every type of content. There is plenty of stuff out there like documentary films and comedy specials where creators are between a rock and a hard place and wan to get it out there, distribute it, own the right but not put it on a free streaming site like YouTube."
Selling direct to fans also offers a new revenue stream to a company that until now was mostly luring people a few times a day for videos. Potential clients include media companies looking to sell videos from conferences: While a comedy special might sell for $5, a conference video could fetch far more.
“We see massive potential for Chill Direct to create new market opportunities for artists to directly distribute and premiere content straight to their fans,” Kleiner Perkins partner Chi-Hua Chien said in a statement. “Chill Direct is poised to change the digital content market in ways artists never before thought possible.”
Chill is not the first company to enter this space. Ansari sold his special, “Dangerously Delicious,” with the help of VHX, which helps artists sell filmed content directly from their websites and offers a live analytics dashboard so artists can see who is buying the film and where the visitors are coming from. Chill will offer something similar.
Topspin Media also helps companies and artists build fan bases around certain content, market their work and sell tickets or merchandise. Its partners range from MTV to Eddie Izzard.
Unlike its competitors, Chill is establishing its own store rather than offering services for artists' own websites. Norgard said he believes that it makes more sense to give artists a platform with an existing fan base and infrastructure. “We believe in the power of connected communities,” Norgard said. “Customers and communities can coalesce around creators in a more collective fashion. Building a community from scratch on your own domain is very very challenging.”
The biggest challenge for Chill will be the marketing of this new service, selling the content in the store and luring high-profile artists.
“I'm sure there will be distributors who see us as second or tertiary channel to iTunes,” Norgard said. “It’s really hard to predict how the content ecosystem shakes out, but if our first launch slate is any indication, there’s a lot of content that can find a home.”