It's no joke. Viacom is taking distribution cues from the man eating the stale Cinnabon sitting on his luggage before heading home from the airport.
The media conglomerate's Comedy Central network on Thursday launched a site selling unlimited streams and downloads of uncut, uncensored stand-up specials for $5 each.
It's a page out of Louis C.K.'s book, following his experiment in late 2011. He produced a stand-up special himself and sold it on his Web site for $5 a pop without any digital-rights management protection, other than the comedian's polite request his fans please refrain from spreading the program on file-sharing sites like BitTorrent.
The success of "Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater" sparked other comics to follow: Jim Gaffigan and Azis Ansari, for example. Now Comedy Central is taking the idea to scale.
Viewers can purchase a Comedy Central stand-up special with a PayPal or Amazon account and get the program uncut, uncensored, and commercial-free, plus bonus features when available. Titles on the Comedy Central site are also DRM free, meaning no system inhibits customers from downloading and streaming the special on multiple devices. The videos can be played across desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and consoles.
Comics get a cut of the revenue, rather than the lion's share if they were distributing the shows themselves. Because these are shows already produced for air, though, comics have no new production costs.
Steve Raizes, a Comedy Central senior vice president who works directly with talent, said the revenue share is higher than what a comedian would get from the sale of a DVD of a stand-up special, and the comics also are getting their slice of sales from the first download sold.
At launch, the CC:Stand-up Direct page has 22 original one-hour stand-up specials from comedians like Daniel Tosh, Anthony Jeselnik, Chris Hardwick, Nick Kroll, Jeff Ross, and John Mulaney. Additional titles are coming, and new specials will be made available for purchase days after premieres on the network.
Ooyala, a video-services provider, is powering the tech side of the site, while Comedy Central is handling the content and marketing aspects.
"The idea was to take something pioneered by Louis C.K., but also bring the marketing power Comedy Central has to other comedians," said Bismarck Lepe, Ooyala's co-founder. "There are enough people and enough fans online -- and Louis C.K. proved this out -- that you can build an incredible business just by making it available online."
Updated at 11:27 a.m. PT: to include interviews with Comedy Central and Ooyala.
Correction, 12:58 p.m. PT: This story initially misstated Bismarck Lepe's title. He is its co-founder.