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Summary:

Network TV series generally have 22 episodes per season, cable series hover around the 13-episode mark, but there is no standard “season” for web series. The prevailing theory seems to be make as many as you can — but is that always better? Given the attention […]

Network TV series generally have 22 episodes per season, cable series hover around the 13-episode mark, but there is no standard “season” for web series. The prevailing theory seems to be make as many as you can — but is that always better? Given the attention span of online audiences, asking them to stick with you over countless episodes seems risky.

Roommates had 47 episodes. Quarterlife is up to 27. Prom Queen had 80 episodes, and its sequel Summer Heat had 15. LonelyGirl15 seasons one and two have a whopping combined 427 episodes.

I understand that with each episode being between 90 seconds and three minutes, it could take a ton of episodes to complete a story arc. But are people sticking around for the whole series? A rough look at the data suggests a mixed answer to that question.

To see if there are any attendance trends along the lifespan of a web series, I looked at the four web series listed above. Then, I pulled and assembled the play counts from each episode for each series into a chart. Caveat: I only pulled them from their “homebase” for traffic and did not include all of the syndication partners. For instance, I only used MySpace numbers for Roommates, quarterlife, Prom Queen and Prom Queen: Summer Heat. For LonelyGirl15 seasons one and two, data was pulled exclusively from YouTube. The rationale for this is that each source was a main (or exclusive) distribution outlet for each series, and once people knew where to watch one episode, they knew where to come back if they wanted more.

ROOMMATES
Between frolicking by the pool and test driving Ford automobiles, Roommates, pulled in 6.2 million plays over 45 episodes. A look at this graph shows that after the big spike in traffic from episode 13 (titillatingly titled “The Exhibitionist” with a thumbnail of a girl stripping in the shower), traffic settled down in the tens of thousands (the spike from the episode title “Wet and Wild Car Wash” notwithstanding).

roommates_data.jpg

QUARTERLIFE
This might be where I eat a little crow, but it looks like Marshall Herskowitz’s ode to whiny twenty-nothings is actually finding an audience. Though it too fluctuates, it seems to consistently pull in around 100,000 viewers per episode on MySpace.

quarterlife_data.jpg

PROM QUEEN

Though Prom Queen enjoyed some initial bumps in traffic, its traffic really died around the episode 20 mark, with traffic only breaking 100,000 mark sporadically across the rest of its run.

prom_queen_data.jpg

PROM QUEEN: SUMMER HEAT

Just like in the movies, maybe the sequel wasn’t such a great idea. Summer Heat went cold immediately, barely breaking 50,000 plays out of the gate and spending most of its time drawing fewer than 20,000 viewers. No wonder Eisner lost money.

summer_heat_data.jpg

LONELYGIRL15

Ugh. The LG Army is going to crucify me in the comments section for this one. LG data is harder to track. The show was on Revver for a while, it has a presence on MySpace, and not all videos are submitted to the “lonelygirl15″ channel (in keeping with the shows intricate plot, different characters upload videos through different accounts). Since YouTube’s Lonelygirl channel had the lion’s share of plays, that seemed like a reasonable measure of the show’s popularity.

LG15‘s first season certainly held its audience. Though the spikes in traffic didn’t cross the million mark as often after episode 31, the show continued to rack up consistent six-figure plays. That’s great considering its episode count was over a hundred at that point.

lg_1_data.jpg

LONELYGIRL15 SEASON 2
Maybe it was the loss of Bree-nnocence, but the second season of LG15 definitely dropped off a cliff, with plays stuck down in the tens of thousands, and far fewer episodes crossing the 100,000 threshold. Perhaps they should have just let Lonelygirl go and come up with another show? (Yes, I know about KateModern).

lg_2_data2.jpg

Oh, don’t let that giant spike in traffic fool you. That 4-million plus performer is the most-watched LG15 video of all time, and I’m not sure what it says about our society or Internet culture (other than “duh”), but the name of that episode is “Girl Tied Up” and featured a cute girl in restraints. Here’s a revised chart without that episode.

lg_2_no_spike.jpg

So what does all this tell us? Well, individual episodes within a web series season spike wildly from episode to episode, which makes sense in an environment where something else entertaining is just a click away. Plus, since they are all on the web, we can access them whenever we like, at least in theory. The fact that episodes posted months ago still don’t generate plays suggests that people aren’t going back.

To get some perspective, I spoke with TV by the Numbers guru Robert Seidman. “Barring special events, the [TV] numbers don’t vacillate that much. The numbers don’t change week to week, but year to year there are changes.” Again, this makes sense for TV where the longer time format allows viewers to create an emotional attachment to characters and return from week to week to watch them.

As we all know, the online video industry is still finding its legs. We don’t have a quantifiable standard for measuring hits, and we’re just starting to experiment with episodic storytelling. But perhaps, we should make our experiments a little shorter.

  1. It would be nice to see how Ze Frank fared with “The Show”. Any info?

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  2. Chris Albrecht Friday, February 8, 2008

    Hi Jeff,

    This is certainly a topic I’d like to explore with other series. But editorial deadlines being what they are, I didn’t have time for this story. Look for a follow up at some point.

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  3. Great article, Chris.

    If you were able to pull the numbers from the shows’ own websites, I’m wondering if you’d see any change in the charts. My guess is that a lot of regular viewers are watching the programs at their specific URLs, so the graphs of the play counts at http://www.promqueen.tv and http://www.lonelygirl15.com wouldn’t spike nearly as much. Probably not enough viewers at those locations to smooth out the graphs of the overall numbers, but still not an insignificant amount.

    I also agree with you about shorter seasons. One show that does this really well is http://www.unleashed.tv. Instead of a long, continuous series, they have multiple, regularly scheduled seasons of about 9-12 episodes a piece. They also release random clips in between seasons to keep viewers watching and give the creators a break from the story line. I think it’s a great model.

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  4. Really Nice work Chris.

    It would be interesting to see Ask A Ninja’s numbers compared to cable TV shows next if you are up for doing it.

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  5. virginian9000 Friday, February 8, 2008

    Chris, great article. I was shocked to see quarterlife doing better as I do remember that post you did. Perhaps its the run-up before they appear on NBC?

    There is another web series that I am a huge fan of that I think you should check out. Its called redearth88 and you can find the playlists on the redearth88 youtube channel. http://youtube.com/redearth88. One of the main characters, rachel, has gotton over one million views over her past five videos. http://youtube.com/redearth. This series is on its way to being big. In my opinion, redearth88 is much better than the web serieses listed here, especially lonelygirl15 and quarterlife.

    The series was created by Glenn Rubenstein, a former writer and director for lonelygirl15, and Jeromy Barber, an independent film producer. Glenn Rubenstein was the creater for OpAphid, which was its own series in 2006 and was integrated into the lonelygirl15 storyline. The redearth88 story has brought back the characters of OpAphid, Tachyon, Brother, and warpylol which all appeared in the lonelygirl15 series. The characters are now a part of redearth88.

    Redearth88 is fun interactive drama. It has an ARG component to it and some unique fan interaction. Fans have been given off-screen cameos among other things that make this series very fun to its fans. Also, I think the storyline is awesome so far, and speculation is running rampant about what’s going to happen next.

    I know you are following a lot, Chris, and I live to give work to people. :) just kidding, but I do think redearth88 should be on your radar. It has the potential to be huge. Hey, what’s one more.

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  6. Very rad, Chris. Thanks for hooking this up.

    While series length is certainly an important determinant of a show’s success, I think more telling is series frequency. A cursory look at your numbers suggests — though it’s not entirely clear — that audience drop off is less severe (although no less inexorable) when a series posts daily. With a series like Prom Queen, however, the episodes are so brief that it’s possible to catch up quickly once a week — a potentially more rewarding viewing experience, a la watching tv seasons on DVD.

    IMHO, I think web producers need to concentrate less on season length — an ever-more anachronistic measurement based on old advertising and production needs — and more on show length and narrative. Pack the action tighter. Give the audience a reason to come back every day, and they will.

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  7. Fascinating stuff and great insight, Chris…Shows just how different the Web still is from traditional TV

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  8. This is very interesting analysis Chris, thank you.

    I’m still speechless over the Lonely Girl spike. That week more people watched LG than most shows that air on the CW broadcast network. Even Gossip Girl, which is widely accredited, incorrectly in my opinion, as a success because of “internet download” success on itunes. That data is fairly meaningless though because even 5,000 people downloading and paying $1.99 for it will shoot you to the top of the list. GG does ~3 million viewers for a new airing, repeats perform considerably worse.

    Do we give the producers of LG credit for not sticking with “Restrained Lonely Girl” as a ratings ploy, or are they idiots for not doing so?!

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  9. This was a great and informative article, but I think you missed a great opportunity when you didn’t cover Redearth88.

    It is a series that is definitely on the rise right now, with unique and interesting story lines, and very relateable characters, and smart writing.

    It was created by Jeromy Barber, and Glenn Rubenstein, the creator of OpAphid, Tachyon, and Brother as well a few other notable characters who’s episodes are often touted as fan favorites.

    Another great facet of the show is that the people who write it try to remain in touch with their audience, maintain a relationship not just as fans but as people.

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  10. Thanks for the tips on Redearth88. Chris promises he will do a piece on them soon. Check back next week. :)

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