As of this week, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, the comedian’s weekly sit-down with famous folk, will ask directly for your dollars. The live broadcast on Sunday afternoons remains free, but full archived episodes will now cost you, either through iTunes for audio playback or micropayment player Dynamo for video. Using Dynamo, fans can watch archived episodes on the official Chat Show website for 30 days after paying $0.99.
In a phone interview, Pollak said he made the decision to switch to a micropayment model for both the audio and video versions of his podcast about six months ago. “When I got started in standup comedy, the rule was that if you were good enough to grow an audience, you could earn a living — something that’s true in every other form of entertainment,” he said. “So six months ago, I realized that if I’m going to give this much of my time and energy to this job, it’s not fair to the tradition of an audience paying for its entertainment for it to continue to be free.”
On the video side, the recommendation of the Dynamo player came from Chat Show director/co-executive producer Mike Rotman, who had met Dynamo co-founder Rob Millis at CES this year. Pollak initially planned to use Amazon VOD for the video, but Rotman had concerns: “From what I understood Amazon took weeks to get a video up once you sent it to them. I obviously didn’t think that was such a good idea — viewers seem to get angry when we put the video up an hour later than usual, let alone weeks,” he said via email.
Once Rotman researched Dynamo, it seemed like the right solution: the team could easily upload its previously converted H.264 video to the service, and so he brought it to Pollak as an alternate solution. Once they settled on using the player, the Chat Show team was able to upload the entire video library (nearly 100 episodes) in one night, and began earning sales immediately.
This is a big win for Dynamo, which was officially announced at last year’s SXSW and is operating under public beta. Dynamo’s standard revenue split with producers is 70/30, and Pollak says that he is getting “at least 70 percent, possibly more.” Because Dynamo is currently primarily a rental service, Pollak also plans to make a downloadable video version available via iTunes as well, for those who want to watch on televisions via Apple TV.
Currently, though, iTunes doesn’t have infrastructure in place to charge for podcasts (with an exception for This American Life, for which Apple created custom code). The solution implemented this week for Pollak, therefore, is that each full episode is sold through iTunes as an individual album for $1.99 (the cheapest price the iTunes infrastructure currently allows, Pollak says — as soon as he can, he’ll knock it down to $0.99).
However, Pollak says that iTunes is currently developing code that would make it possible for him as well as other podcasters to charge for their podcasts, and hopes that others will follow his example. “We’ve been at it for two years and the promise of bigger sponsors has come and gone — no one can seem to bring in mainstream sponsors with deep enough pockets. The audience for internet content talks about it rivaling traditional media, and I say a pay model is going to be necessary for that to happen,” he said.
In December 2010, Chat Show was downloaded 1.2 million times. The show next streams live on Saturday at 2 PM PT from the San Francisco Sketch Fest; Pollak’s guest will be Mythbusters star Adam Savage.
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