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Why comedian Hannibal Buress bypassed traditional streaming platforms and teamed up with a video-conferencing startup to release his latest special for free on YouTube

DATE POSTED:August 8, 2020

Hannibal Buress

Last August, while the rest of the world was relishing what they didn't yet realize was the last summer of normalcy, Hannibal Buress was filming a comedy special. 

The special, called "Miami Nights," was released in July and has gotten rave reviews from critics. But the comedian's unusual choice of platform also caught people's attention. Buress forewent the usual streaming services, such as Netflix and HBO, and instead teamed up with the startup video conferencing service Undock to put the whole special on YouTube — for free. 

In a conversation with Business Insider, the comedian explains how he and Undock pulled off a partnership that could come to shape the future of creative control for entertainers. 

Buress says partnering with Undock gave him more control over his work

A few weeks before Buress' special was set to go live, he was still looking for a sponsor. He had already decided to put "Miami Nights" on YouTube, making it available to stream for free, because he wanted to maintain creative freedom in his work. But he needed some capital to pull that off.

"I started thinking, 'maybe I could just get a sponsor, maybe a sponsor will be up for being at the top of the special," he said. "But then we were thinking, maybe we can get bigger sponsors, and bigger companies."

But it takes time to get those big sponsors — time that Buress and his team didn't have. So they went back to the drawing board and came up with a new idea: partnering with a start-up.

"I had done some start-up investing over the past few years, so I reached out to my friend and asked her if she knew of any good up-and-coming companies [I could partner with]," Buress said. 

With about two weeks to spare, that friend put Buress in contact with Undock, a platform that allows for both scheduling and video conferencing. Undock agreed to air its ads at the beginning of Buress' special, and the rest was history.

"We worked really hard to make the deal come together on such short notice," Buress told Business Insider. "And it felt good. Everybody is video conferencing these days, and it didn't feel like a hamfisted plug." 

Undock allows users to schedule and attend virtual meetings

Suddenly, the creative possibilities began to expand for Buress. Not only could he release comedy specials, but he could also create web series, live streams, and podcasts, and he's hoping to partner with more startup companies that can help him make it all happen.

In the end, Buress keeps his creative freedom and intellectual property rights, and a startup gets attention: it's a win-win situation, he says.

"If it goes great, it could be a different way to approach deals," he said, adding that this experience has prompted him to start rethinking how he's going to implement ads on his new podcast. 

Typically for podcasts, there are ad reads, and advertisers pay for that placement. But, Buress told Business Insider, he was thinking about making a partnership with all of his advertisers to possibly own equity in what he was promoting.

"I'm weighing whether I would want a bigger part of the podcast revenue," he said. "Now I'm thinking, why do an ad read for a fee instead of being a part of something? Especially something you think is dope and where you're not just reading it to read it."

Buress is particularly excited about the fact that he has more say over where his work lives.

For example, he explained, at any moment, he can quickly change his mind, take the whole special off YouTube, and sell it to Netflix. He could reinstate ads or open his comment section back up at any time. It's a new world of possibilities, which could help reshape the way artists retain their creative control and liberty, in an entertainment industry notorious for impeding intellectual rights.

"Or I could take it completely down, add a shorter version, hire a Spanish voiceover person and have them dub over it, then put it back up," he continued. "The next one might just go directly to my website. Who knows?"

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