“Live at the Beacon Theater” pays off as fans, comedian cut out network middlemen
Comedian Louis CK says his online-only special "Live at the Beacon Theater" has earned him $200,000 in profits since its debut last week — and it's still selling.
After working with HBO, Showtime, and Comedy Central on his last three specials, the comedian/writer/director decided to go it alone this time to see if he could cut out the corporate middleman between him and his fans.
The special represents a potential alternative to going through networks, record companies, iTunes, or other content distributors, offering a comedy parallel to Radiohead's 2007 online release of its album "In Rainbow" for whatever price fans wanted to pay.
In a message to those who bought the special — available for $5 on his website — he spelled out all of his costs, as well as his profits so far. The special went on sale Saturday.
"I really hope people keep buying it a lot, so I can have shitloads of money, but at this point I think we can safely say that the experiment really worked," he told fans. "If anybody stole it, it wasn't many of you. Pretty much everybody bought it."
C.K. said the $200,000 he has has profited so far is "less than I would have been paid by a large company to simply perform the show and let them sell it to you." But fans would have had to pay about $20 for the video, he estimated, rather than $5.
Also, the D.I.Y. approach allows him to keep the rights to the special, and allows fans more freedom in how they can view it, since the download is not encrypted or regionally restricted.
C.K., the creator and star of the FX show "Louie," says production of the video cost around $170,000, covered largely by the cost of tickets for the two shows he filmed and edited together for the special. Developing his website to sell the special cost about $32,000. Sales of more than 110,000 copies have so far brought in more than $500,000. PayPal charges and other costs left him with "around $200,000 (after taxes $75.58)," he wrote.
C.K.'s approach wouldn't work for every comedian — he noted that doing the special on his own took much more time. He directed and edited it himself, as he does every episode of "Louie."
He said he hopes ot continue the direct approach for "videos, CDs or tickets to my tours," with a caveat: "Of course I reserve the right to go back on all of this and sign a massive deal with a company that pays me fat coin and charges you straight up the ass."