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Emmys 2012: Louis C.K.'s Digital Download Experiment Pays Off

Louis CK Louie PR Image on bench - P 2012
FX

"Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre's" Emmy could shape the way entertainers produce and distribute their own starring vehicles.

Of all Sunday night's Emmy wins, none offer a more intriguing glimpse at TV's future than Louis C.K.'s Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special for Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre.

That's because the concert special wasn't produced by any TV studio, nor was it even initially meant to air on TV. It was made by C.K. for his fans, who paid $5 to download it directly from his website

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Edited and released just four weeks after the Nov. 2011 show it captures, the Live at the Beacon Theatre's business model was quietly revolutionary for the way it dispensed altogether with physical media, VOD and third-party streaming services like Hulu and Netflix.

The show would eventually air six months later on FX, the same cable network that airs the comedian's critically acclaimed comedy Louie -- which won C.K. another writing Emmy -- thus making it eligible for Emmy consideration.

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Explaining his reasoning at the time to The New York Times, C.K. said, “Everybody is outnumbered, because everything in your wallet represents all these contentious relationships with these huge companies. ... You don’t have to have an iTunes account in good standing. You don’t have to have your credit card at Netflix updated. You can be a loser and watch this thing. You can be in prison.”

C.K. would later say in an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon that the experiment was a sucessful one, producing $1.1 million in gross profits, which he used to cover its $250,000 production costs. The rest of the profits were divided between crew bonuses, charitable donations, and, C.K. joked, the purchase of "a new penis." 

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Other comedians have since followed suit, with Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari releasing similar comedy specials using the direct-to-consumer download business model.

But now the show is more than just a financial success. It's an Emmy-winner -- and the prospect of working around entertainment business middle-men has never looked more appealing.

As C.K deadpanned as he took the podium, "You know, I wanted another one, so that's nice."