Every so often a famous creative artist decides to bypass the traditional publishing and distribution system. It happened in music and Stephen King had a pioneering experiment 15 years ago for a book. But when it comes to television, the honor for disruptive attempts has to go to, the comedian, Louis CK.
Back in 2011, he put a new comedy special on his website and allowed people to download it for $5. It worked out very well and he has kept doing it ever since but has also opted for a hybrid model where he also sells the rights to traditional channels like HBO.
This weekend, Louis CK did it again. He launched the first episode of a show called Horace and Pete’s. Once again he charged $5 for the episode. We don’t know whether it will be a success but I purchased it and can tell you that it so clearly is something that could not have been done using traditional distribution. Instead, Louis CK has taken permissionless innovation to its height.
Let me note what was distinctive about this:
- It is low-tech. This didn’t cost much to make. There are two sets: a bar and an apartment. There is no backing soundtrack. And the sound quality is different. I’m not an expert but whatever it is that other people do, wasn’t there.
- It has a stellar cast. There was Louis CK, Steven Wright, Alan Alda and a bunch of people I know whom I can’t remember their names. None of the performances were polished but that was OK.
- It was transactionally easy. Well, not Apple TV easy but not too far off. It was easy to pay and download (or stream). Because there was no DRM, I could just import the file (with very high resolution) into iTunes and then just stream it to my TV using Apple TV. The payment was two clicks.
- It was different. This was a show that was not afraid of a lawyer. It had racism, homophobia and body shaming — not with approval but unlike what you would see on normal media. It was also current. It must have been made last week because Trump skipped the debate. This is something that I think is going to track real time like Drop the Dead Donkey used to. Suffice it to say, that is not the Netflix model.
- It was OK. I am not saying this is the greatest show or even close but it had its moments. I’ll likely watch the next episode. But it wasn’t laugh out loud funny or I am not even sure it was satisfying. But it was interesting.
- It cost $5 per episode. First, not $4.99, $5. Louis CK thinks we can handle the math. Second, $5 per episode is alot. On iTunes you would pay $2.99. That’s a big difference. But I suspect it does not matter. Why? Because it is all (well almost all, the payment system gets a bit) going to the artists. No one else is getting anything here.
- The best description of this is a play not a TV show. It felt like a play. The only reason it isn’t is that Louis CK probably doesn’t like the idea of putting on a play. But it is a play in its feel and content. It is just a play that is going to have episodes and relate to the news today.
What I think is going on here is that Louis CK did not want a single person other than those who were necessary putting any constraints on him. And the output looks exactly like that. It is precisely why it is different. Will it end up being good? I have no idea. But the fact that it can be done should be very encouraging to us all.