A Note on Horace and Pete

If you require some sort of explanation about the two characters mentioned in the title, here it is: on January 30, Louis C.K. sent this email to anyone who had created an account on his website, which he has previously used to sell copies of his standup:

Hi there.
Horace and Pete episode one is available for download. $5.
Go here to watch it.
We hope you like it.

The show itself is too much to be summarized here. It's the first episode of a series of unknown length, released on an unknown schedule. It clocks in at 67 minutes, has no advertising, and follows a stage-inspired two-halves-separated-by-an-intermission format (which does nto end its similarities to stage productions, but thats more about the content of the show itself, which I wont speak to now).

His entire marketing strategy for this show consisted of those 24 words.

It could be said that there are two competing visions for the future of the internet.

The first views the internet as a dissemination tool. Networks and content makers stored and showed their video works on televisions to a discrete audience, and growth was scary and required a distribution undertaking on the scale of the production of the content itself. Print publishing before them dealt with similar issues, none more pressingly than journalism. The internet allowed for distribution of those products at a wide scale with much lower overhead, but didn't fundamentally change the nature of the products they produced or the forces behind them. They were just available in more places for more people for less money, and when distribution costs don't rise on scale with increased distribution, the revenue sources they use become much more effective.

The first group thinks that media companies and editors still have the real creative and curative energy behind them. So their distribution methods change, yes, and change they must and always will continue to change, but nobody in their garage is going to challenge Universal Studios or NBC or the New York Times because distribution is only worthwhile when the content is worth it, and their content is just more important. They are the curators.

The second group believes that the internet is a tool for the democratization of content: if not democratization, than anarchization of content. That decrease in distribution overhead didn't just lower costs for big publishers, it lowered the bar for potential producers, and someone who could foot this much smaller bill wondered why they didn't deserve an equal seat at the table. After all, the medium of browsing the web affectively gave them one: a URL was all you needed to get to both the New York Times and Joe Smiths Food Blog.

If large publishers and small publishers compete on an even playing field based on the quality of their content, the second group believes that small publishers will sometimes win.

The first battle between the two sides was fought over words, specifically published and printed words. The democratizers won.

The second battle was fought over music. A vision of instantly accessible garage bands was co-opted by the powerful marketing establishments of media companies, and today the media landscape is populated by the same types of artists looking for exposure to the same sorts of companies. The curators won. (Its worth mentioning that independent publishers won a side battle over podcasts, but that was more of a direct hit against terrestrial radio than music companies, who never really cared enough to fight this battle.)

The third battle was fought over movies, and the curators won, but not by beating independent creators on merit. Someone could make a movie for an audience and release it online, and maybe even have enough money to put a big name actor behind it, but it will never see an awards show appearance unless a production company markets it, and they will use the same techniques they always do when they eventually find something they like. Theres still a layer of production executives and producers in between people and movies.

The fourth battle is over short-form episodic video, formerly known as television shows.

Louis C.K. is not a production company. He has none of the baggage of producing a show thats supposed to be aired on television by a network: no commercials arbitrarily breaking up the flow of an episode into four parts, no S&P execs defining what can or can't be said by who, no marketing people determining what kind of things millennials will or will not watch. Theres no social media campaign, no commercials, no marketing of any kind aside from those 24 words.

But it is, by a quality standard, real. It stars Alan Alda and Jessica Lange. It has long takes and careful, almost mournful pacing. It has a theme song by Paul Simon, for Christs sake. This is a real show, meant to be consumed with the same reverence as any other show, but without the baggage from television and even the production filter of Netflix or Amazon, which are just as much content filters and curators as the networks were.

Whether or not the show is good, and I believe it is (please see for yourself: Go here and pay the five bucks), what is most important is that this model has to be seen as an option going forward in order for the democratizers to have a shot of winning this battle, and making sure the internet can still be a place for everyone.