Ricky Gervais: always hit-and-miss

Inevitably, given its success, there is to be a second season of the Ricky Gervais Show podcasts. I confess, I have been known to stay up until midnight on a Sunday evening, to be able to listen to the show in bed, as soon as it was posted. The ‘goats as Christmas presents’ routine in episode 4 made me laugh out loud, and woke the rest of the family. If I’m honest, it was generally ‘amusing’ with the occasional ‘hysterical’ – and when there’s no money changing hands, that’s a good deal.
But charging for the product takes it into a whole new area. And you definitely sense that Ricky realises that. Look at the fascinating choice of words in that final free edition:

‘We may have to charge a small fee for it, ‘cos it’ll cost us money, and Karl is unemployed. But we mean a real, tiny little fee… I hope you continue to support us. Go on, continue to support us. I hope there’s no-one out there going ‘oh, look, they’re charging for it now.’ But you know, people forget, we gave 12 for free… We have got to charge a little bit for it, because it does cost money to host. Please, please keep listening. It is going to be very little, and you know, Karl needs your money.’

(I hope I’m not being too pedantic by pointing out that the 12 episodes weren’t ‘free’: don’t forget the advertising for Guardian Unlimited, Positive Internet and Channel Four’s Friday comedy strand. There’s surely some cash flowing around there somewhere.)
Will it work? Depends on your definition. The audience figure (261,670 downloads per episode in the first month) is going to drop dramatically, like a lead zeppelin. But if even a tiny, tiny fraction of those people are prepared to pay £3.75 for ‘at least four episodes – but it could be more’, they’ll be in profit, albeit not quite enough to retire on (or, indeed, to quit your job making promos for XFM). It’s not as if there are huge production costs, or a massive team of writers to pay. Most of the later episodes were just Karl’s stream-of-consciousness, sparking off listeners’ emails.
Someone with his profile trying to make podcasting into a business: yes, that’s certainly a story worth following, but it’s not a guarantee of success. Ricky Gervais has always been brave, prepared to give it a try. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The Office is already recognised as a classic alongside Fawlty Towers. The jury’s still out on Extras, which had flashes of brilliance, but buckets of mediocre. We don’t talk about Meet Ricky Gervais. Nobody knows about Seona Dancing, which is probably just as well (but do check out the pictures).