Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

The Louis C.K. Window

So, yes. You can go to Louis C.K.’s Web site, give him $5 via PayPal, and download his newest stand-up concert.

I bought it Saturday night, watched it on the plane Sunday, and laughed out loud, a bunch. You should do it, and there’s a good chance you have — techland loved this story this weekend. Also, again: It’s very funny.

But What Does It All Mean? Not a ton. It’s an evolutionary step, relevant to a select group of people who make entertainment. With one interesting twist.

The part that isn’t new here is Louis C.K. using the Web and doing it on his own. We’ve seen a bunch of that over the years, mostly from entertainers who have already become famous (or at least semi-famous) with the help of mainstream media. Prince and Radiohead sold their own music only after they sold lots of songs for big music labels. Adam Carolla leapt/got pushed from TV and radio gigs into podcasting.

The new twist here is the way his experiment changes video “windows” — which determine when shows and movies show up on different outlets. By going direct-to-fan first, C.K. doesn’t shut off his chance to end up working the Big Media Companies he says he doesn’t want to work with. He’s just making them wait. So the people who really love him can get it right away, and he can capture almost all of that value in the transaction.

We’ll call it the Louis C.K. Window.

It can run for a week, or a month, or however long he’d like to be the sole outlet for his show. But then, if he wants to get more money for his product and reach a different audience, C.K. can sell the program to HBO or Showtime or Netflix for a “pay-TV window.” And then, eventually, to the likes of Comedy Central or FX. At some point, he can retail discs and downloads via Amazon and iTunes, etc.

The Louis C.K. Window is the most gratifying, because it’s cool, and because he’ll keep almost every penny his fans spend to see him. But it’s also likely to expose him to the smallest number of people.

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that a million people pony up for the concert — basically, that is, everyone who watches his (great) show on News Corp.’s FX channel. (News Corp. owns this site, too.)

That’s a wildly optimistic estimate, and it will still be a fraction of the people that HBO, which has some 28 million subscribers, can reach. You can fault Big Media for a lot of things, but it remains pretty good at rounding up Big Audiences.

But that’s the great thing about the Louis C.K. Window. It lets Louis C.K. — and a relatively small group of people with big ambitions, and ardent fans — have it both ways.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”