Comedians like Jim Gaffigan, Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K generate millions of hits on YouTube videos uploaded by ordinary users. Even though none of this nets them any money, it does net them a large fan base on the Internet and world-wide. Therefore it only makes sense to make their performances available in a similar style.
Speaking as a consumer, I’ve spent $20 for online, exclusive stand-up comedy specials: Ansari’s Dangerously Delicious, Gaffigan’s Mr. Universe and C.K.’s Live at the Beacon Theater as well as his newly released Word. That’s the equivalent of one comedian’s regularly priced DVD special.
Normally I would just watch the specials on TV, choosing either to DVR them or to watch them live with commercials. So in effect I have already spent more money because of the availability.
C.K. faced an initial uncertainty due to torrenting and online piracy, saying, “I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without ‘corporate’ restrictions.” A large majority of the piracy C.K. speaks of takes place in foreign countries. China, Bulgaria and Armenia rank among the worst offenders due to the fact that content is not available or restricted in those places.
Yet piracy has obviously shown no sign of destroying the model. C.K. posted a picture on Twitter when his Paypal broke $1,000,000. And piracy has certainly not slowed online distribution of music or movies. Just last year Netflix surpassed BitTorrent in traffic. Think about it: when’s the last time you popped a CD into your car stereo? This is obviously a natural progression in the digital age. But can it work for all comics?
Kent Alterman, Comedy Central’s head of Original Programming and Production, has been quoted as saying that only “a very rarefied community of comedians” are likely to command an audience to recoup the costs.
What channels like Comedy Central, HBO and Showtime have done for years is provide a platform for comedians to appear on TV. Outside of appearing in five minute bits on late night TV, its the biggest way to break through for comedians. This is how they obtain a following.
C.K. claimed total production and distribution costs were roughly $250,000 of his own personal money. Obviously a comic that made his first appearance on Conan last week won’t have this kind of money. But the strategy for these lesser known comics follows a similar model where they release their material strictly online, cutting out things like video production and physical manufacturing and distribution costs of DVD’s and CDs.
Perhaps the key to understanding this shift to look at the demographics of stand-up comedy. Most consumers are male and a very large amount of them are younger, particularly in the 18-35 range. This age group lives online and has done so most of their lives.
But success does not guarantee repetition. Ansari’s special, after a two month run online, will appear on Comedy Central this Sunday and C.K.’s Live at the Beacon Theater was recently aired on FX. In his AMA on Reddit.Com C.K. was enthusiastic about online releases but hesitant to fully commit. “As long as it stays a good idea. We’ll see. It’s been really fun to do it and learn about it. I think there’s huge potential. But potential means there might be nothing.”
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About the Author: Nate Rankin writes Comedy Reviews and Fiction because no one taught him any better. His fiction has been featured by Workers Writes, theNewerYork! and Used Gravitrons and is forthcoming in The Green Blotter. His work can be seen here: http://iamseamus.tumblr.com/writing You can find him on the Tweety Box @CommanderSeamus If you'd like to submit a review inquiry please send to nrankin22[at]gmail[dot]com