So Louis C.K., Tay Zonday and A Salesman Walk Into My Head…

Three things / people got into my head this week and I’ve been trying to shuffle them around and see what they mean.

1) Louis C.K.

2) An article on about Maker Studios —  an incredibly smart and inventive place where they’re creating a new kind of production studio for YouTube.

3) A chance encounter with an old ad sales guy for a leading print publication.

I think I can triangulate these three things and get them to mean something… Stay with me here.

1) You couldn’t miss all of the chatter around Louis C.K.’s amazing success at distributing his own comedy special online. David Carr did a great write up in the Times on Monday. As of Carr’s deadline, Louis cleared $750K on 200,000 downloads of his special (total gross was a $Million). Good money (although he might have made just as much from HBO paying him to license it up front). But even better as a game changer for everyone in media.

This was not a sure thing. Louis took a real risk here. He could have put this up, and no one would have bought it. OR, he could have suffered from his decision not to heavily DRM the file and had some people buy it and tons of others watch it “illegally.” But he trusted his fans, set the price right, and it took off.

Now, Louis wouldn’t starve if this hadn’t had worked… but it would have been an embarrassment. And it DEFINITELY wouldn’t have put him in the catbird seat, where he sits now.

Everyone has commented on some of the obvious factors lurking here, but it’s worth noting them now:

  • Louis has an established reputation. He’s a known commodity for comedy fans, and for the large mailing list he probably used to spark the initial demand for the special.
  • He has an established career / pov. Again — this is a guy who’s been on stage practically every night of the last 20 years or so. He’s got chops. He knew he could deliver. It was NEVER a risk of failing creatively.
  • Like many other things that become phenomena on the internet, no one’s sure what’s going to happen with this, but a door has certainly been blown open and it’s NOT ever going to close again.

Which is something to keep in mind if you’re one of the “kids” profiled in …

2)…’s piece “The YouTube Laugh Factory.” The main focus of the piece is Maker Studios in Culver City in L.A. There’s 200 “partners” making hundreds of YouTube Channels, supported by 140+ people. A lot of them are making money. Along with Maker Studios, the centerpiece of the article is Tay Zonday, whom many of you will remember from his video “Chocolate Rain.”

Turns out Tay clears somewhere between 24-72K a year (he wouldn’t say, and Wired had to calculate based on $1-3 CPMs). Some of Maker’s channels clear 6 figures.

The big thing here is that, as Wired points out, these people are making waitress / p.a. money while they’re getting better at their craft. This is a viable way to break into the business. And no one is claiming that “this is it!” — only that this is a great launch pad – the way UCB or Second City has been a launch pad in decades past.

What I was MOST taken by was the collaborative support demonstrated at Maker Studios. The economy of scale — where unknowns appear and are promoted by the successful “established” channels, and crews / writers / artists / production people pollinate each other’s shows with intelligence, wisdom and ideas is what makes this really exciting!

But this is not Louis C.K. These people are not established, they’ve got a lot to learn about pleasing and holding an audience… they need (as they say in showbiz) “Seasoning.” But it’ll come, and in the meantime they’ve discovered a new place to get some chops.

As for the money — we’re seeing the “funnel” of old media / advertising money becoming a “colander.”  Same pool of money, you just now break it into hundreds of little streams. You’re going to need “co-ops” like Maker Studios to make that work.

Which brings me to…

3) The sad old advertising salesman I ran into the other night. I was with a friend, who recognized this guy as being the head of ad sales at what is STILL a leading print magazine. (And still profitable, so that narrows the list down PLENTY.) My friend asked after several people whom he believed still worked at the magazine — none work there anymore.

The poor guy was headed into his holiday party, and my friend had pulled a total “ghost of Christmas present” on him. He shrugged, headed for the check-in table, where two eager interns handed him his name tag.

Now — you might expect me to say “Run kids, Run!” but I’m not going to… because this magazine the old ad sales guy works for trades on MONSTER celebrity names and wonderful photos of them and “inside dirt” about their lives. And the people at Maker Studios would KILL to be in this magazine, and probably read this magazine, and probably make fun of it on their channels.

And while the old ad sales guy is sad because the money isn’t flowing to his magazine in the raging floodwater style to which he had become accustomed, that money is going to start flowing toward YouTube.

And that’s because YouTube put money down on Jay-Z and Madonna and Depak Chopra’s channels. Say what you will about those big-money bets — it sent a big flare in the sky that was noticed by the big ad sales guys, who aren’t going to think of YouTube only as the home of “Chocolate Rain.”

Good news all around…

4) WHICH BRINGS ME BACK TO LOUIS C.K. because I’ve been thinking a lot about “What would YOU do if you were Louis?”

What I’d do if I were Louis is turn around to the 10 most successful comics I know and love, and say “Here’s the tools. Here’s how I did it. Go ahead, let’s all do it… and we can appear on each other’s videos, and we’ll promote them on each other’s sites, and maybe we’ll promote 1 or 2 of those kids from Maker Studios… because we can create our own network. And it’s not an either / or thing… it’s a ‘more for everyone’ thing.”

That’s what I’d do if I were Louis C.K.


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