Jim Gaffigan’s next stand-up special, Noble Ape, will be released on July 17 through a variety of platforms, both streaming and traditional. The list includes Amazon, most major cable providers (including AT&T, Verizon, Cox, Charter, Comcast and DISH and DIRECTV), and through Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and the PlayStation and Xbox stores. Notably missing from the list are Netflix, HBO and Comedy Central—the three biggest networks for stand-up.
Does this mean none of those services were interested? Or at least that they weren’t interested in matching Gaffigan’s asking price for a new hour? Gaffigan’s last special, Cinco, is a Netflix exclusive, and the streaming service is the current exclusive home of four of his older specials. Considering how much money Netflix has been tossing out to major comedians over the last few years, maybe Gaffigan, who’s long been considered one of the most successful comedians today (his Noble Ape tour saw him play at a variety of NBA and NHL arenas, something not a lot of comics can do), expected a larger deal than the streaming service was willing to offer.
Louis C.K. made millions by self-releasing his comedy through his own site at a low price. By releasing his special through a variety of outlets Gaffigan is sort of pursuing a less risky but potentially less profitable version of that plan. He won’t get every cent spent on the special, as C.K. did, but viewers will be able to find it more easily than they would if they had to visit Gaffigan’s personal site and pay to download it to their computer. And also his comedy won’t be gated to one platform’s audience, widening the potential viewership. It remains to be seen if his fans will be willing to search for Noble Ape on these platforms and then pay to watch it on demand, especially since many of them probably subscribe to Netflix in part for its stand-up specials, but it’ll be interesting to see if comics at a certain level will still be able to make top-tier money off their specials without going through Netflix.
The most interesting aspect of this announcement: has Netflix’s large comedy deals shifted the market so dramatically that comedians like Gaffigan, who are about as popular and successful at stand-up as you can be while being just a step below Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Ellen Degeneres, or Jerry Seinfeld in terms of name value, are getting squeezed out of the middle? As Netflix moves into shorter and shorter comedy specials, first with last year’s half-hour anthology The Standups and now with its upcoming series of 15-minute stand-up specials, is the billions-of-dollars-in-debt streaming giant looking to save money by cutting ties with comedians at Gaffigan’s level? Could the future of Netflix stand-up be either new hours from living legends that the service paid tens of millions of dollars to, or microspecials by relative unknowns, with little in-between? Well, we don’t know. But Jim Gaffigan putting together his own alternative distribution network using old-school cable providers and non-traditional download services could be a sign that the Netflix cash geyser is slowing down.
That’s all speculation, of course. What we know for sure: Jim Gaffigan has a new special called Noble Ape coming out on July 17, and you’ll be able to watch it through a variety of platforms. Just not the one that you probably watch most of your stand-up on now.