Watch your back, Netflix.
Splitsider.com, widely considered to be the bible of comedy geek news, has become the latest entity to dive into the increasingly crowded pool of original online feature film distributors.
Inspired by the success of comedians Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan -- who both sold live stand-up specials on their own websites in late 2011 and early 2012 respectively -- the site has launched a platform called “Splitsider Presents,” which will make original 60-minute-plus films, documentaries and stand-up specials available for streaming and download, targeting Splitsider’s alternative comedy fan base.
"It’s only possible to do what Louis C.K. or Jim Gaffigan did if you have the huge fan base that those guys have," says Splitsider editor and founder Adam Frucci. "We’re trying to find that sweet spot in between. We have a very loyal comedy audience and we can use our existing marketing capabilities to promote projects we think are worthwhile."
The films won’t be free. Like Louis C.K. and Gaffigan’s specials, Splitsider films will cost $5 per download.
"It’s a good price point," says Frucci. "It’s established that people are willing to pay that much for original online content. Any more and it gets iffy."
Frucci says he’s looking to make a new title available on the site every two months, and that filmmakers can expect a 70% cut on every download. A take that high is possible because Splitsider Presents hired Version Industries — the same company that built Louis C.K.’s website — to construct an original video platform, rather than using an established third party like VHX or Vimeo.
"We did it that way to avoid the transaction fee," says Frucci. "That way artists can keep as much of the proceeds as humanly possible."
It’s an intriguing opportunity for comedians and filmmakers with alternative, edgier content to sell, who lack the name recognition to land a traditional distribution deal, or to promote their work on their own sites.
"It’s easy for Louis C.K. to sell a million copies because he’s Louis C.K.," says comedy writer-director Ben Popik, whose self-financed experimental feature "The Exquisite Corpse Project" will be the first film distributed through Splitsider Presents.
Part documentary, part feature, Popik’s film goes behind the scenes with five comedy writers who are each tasked with writing 15 minutes of a movie -- having only read the previous five pages of the script. Documentary footage of this process is spliced throughout their final product.
"The effect is almost like having the director’s commentary on," explains Popik. "It’s an entirely new format -- which is risky for distributors. We’ve had great audience reaction from the festivals we’ve played. But we have no celebrities in the film, and it’s got a rather complicated premise. So I was interested in finding a different way to release the film. Splitsider has real audience of die-hard alternative comedy fans. So we’re going to be able to target our content directly to the audience we’re trying to reach."
How successful the endeavor will be is anyone’s guess.
"I'll be honest, I’m not sure what to expect," says Frucci. "It’s not as if we’re trying to hit ‘x’ number of downloads. We don’t have a goal."
Frucci can afford to be slightly cavalier about establishing sales marks because the risk is minimal. Unlike Netflix, Splitsider has no immediate intention of producing its own content, other than perhaps the occasional live stand-up special.
"This was an investment on our part," says Frucci, "but one I'm confident we'll be able to recoup."
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