$5 for a DRM-free download: The premise of Aziz Ansari’s new online-exclusive stand-up special Dangerously Delicious may sound familiar. But for the folks behind VHX.tv, it’s not just about copying Louis CK’s success story – it’s about making 2012 the year for crowdfunded online video to succeed. “This could be the year where independent creators could be in the black,” VHX.tv co-founder Jamie Wilkinson told me during a video chat today.
Ansari released his comedy special on his website today, asking fans to pay $5 to instantly stream or download the one-hour show. The offering is powered by VHX, which has until now mostly been focused on social video discovery. Ansari’s special is kicking off VHX’s new artist program, which is meant to help artists to monetize their video assets in a direct-to-fan fashion. So far, things are off to a great start: Wilkinson and his co-founder Casey Pugh told me that they’ve been working non-stop to deal with the heavy demand for the special. “It’s much better than we ever imagined,” said Pugh.
Louis CK pioneered the idea of selling downloads of stand-up specials directly to fans in December, and cutting out gatekeepers like iTunes (s AAPL) worked really well for him: CK’s special reportedly brought in more than $1 million within the first 12 days. Making downloads available without any DRM restrictions is key to this kind of approach, believes Wilkinson: “If you treat the consumer like a smart person… people really respond to that.”
Pugh told me that the new artist program is additive to what VHX has been offering in the video discovery space. But there is definitely potential for it to become something bigger: Artists could use eventually use Kickstarter to raise funds for production, and VHX to sell their wares to fans, the duo told me. Of course, others are looking at the space of crowd-funding as well, but they didn’t seem to worried about competition. Said Pugh: “Video is a pretty hard problem to solve.”