14 Comments

Summary:

A director friend called to tell me about a new web series he’s working on. We were chatting when he asked “How many episodes should I launch with?” Hmmm… That’s an interesting question. The web is so much more flexible than oldteevee, you could release as […]

A director friend called to tell me about a new web series he’s working on. We were chatting when he asked “How many episodes should I launch with?” Hmmm… That’s an interesting question. The web is so much more flexible than oldteevee, you could release as few or as many at a time as you like.

How many you kick the series off with probably depends on the type of content you are creating. If it’s a sketch comedy series, you could release one and then wait either another day or week before releasing the second, since each bit would standalone (and hopefully go viral).

But what do you do if you’re trying to tell a story?

Sci-Fi, drama, even sitcoms are based on character development and plot — not jokes. When you’re telling stories in 2 to 5 minute increments, it’s hard to provide enough elements to get people hooked with just one episode. So how many episodes is ideal to get viewers to keep coming back?

I asked Jane Hu of Tornante/Vuguru her thoughts on the subject. Below is her lightly-edited response via email:

“I think it ultimately depends on the type of content. In general, launching with multiple episodes allows people to get more invested in the show early on. For example, The All-For-Nots launched with three episodes (and continue to release three at a time each week). For our mysteries where episodes end in a cliffhanger (Prom Queen, etc.), I think the cliffhanger produces an additional incentive to come back to the show, so launching with multiple episodes becomes less important.”

Other producers have told me that it also depends on how many episodes your series is. If you only have six or so, they thought it would be a good idea to launch them all at once.

But what do you think? Understanding the variables we just discussed, as a viewer, how many episodes do you generally need to really get into a show? As a creator, what’s the best way to keep the audience engaged? And if you’re a business person, how much do you want to string them out to maximize your advertising/sponsorship potential?

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. Jamison Tilsner Monday, May 12, 2008

    From a creative standpoint, I think it’s best to get something out into the ether as soon as it’s complete. That empowers viewers to help shape/perfect the concept.

    From TikiBar to Rocketboom to Galacticast to iChannel to ZeFrank, audience feedback has been key to a show’s development.

    Traditional media outlets often use test audiences to determine whether its products are ready for market, because bringing that product to market is costly. On the internet, there’s no cost associated with a shows release — creators should use that benefit to their advantage.

  2. Steve Bryant Monday, May 12, 2008

    As a viewer strapped for time, I like series that launch with multiple episodes and debut new eps as soon as possible. Prom Queen pub’d a new episode every day, which — to my mind, at least — helped build repeat viewing habits.

    Besides a high frequency of publication, providing publication reminders in as many formats as possible is beneficial. I wouldn’t watch the all for knots if I didn’t get an email reminder every week.

  3. Chris Albrecht Monday, May 12, 2008

    @Steve,

    The reminder “nudge” is a good point. With so many choices out there, it’s good to get a reminder of something you actually like.

  4. Chuck Boyce Monday, May 12, 2008

    I think it’s more about the quality of each show and the consistency you are able to maintain in both quality and publication. Rocketboom became trusted to offer a great show every weekday.

    My advice would be to start asap as long as you can keep it up at the pace you choose (daily, weekly, bi-weekly, etc.) and more importantly as long as you can maintain the quality.

    People understand that web video is not monetized as it should be and I think they’ll cut you some slack. I like the idea of Amanda Congdon’s new series. Sometime Daily. Cool idea. We’ll try to give you something daily if we can, but if we don’t – you’ll still get something regularly – and it will be good.

    Chuck

    shameless plug – http://chucktv.ning.com

  5. Mark Schoneveld Monday, May 12, 2008

    I never really considered this, but it’s an excellent point. If you start with a few episodes all at once, people might watch two or three instead of just one and that way you can get more bang for your proverbial PR buck.

    Although if you look at a show like iChannel, they launched with one very well done episode that went ‘viral’ and had everyone begging for more. If you’ve got a fantastic introduction episode, let it linger. And pray it goes huge.

    News-type stuff, though – get a schedule and stick to it, right? I think bulking up with some content before launching is a good idea so when you run out of them, you won’t be sweating for new stuff.

  6. The Webisode Release Dilemma « MyMediaMusings Monday, May 12, 2008

    [...] Webisode Release Dilemma Jump to Comments NewTeeVee has started an interesting discussion regarding how many episodes to release when launching a [...]

  7. I’m asking myself this very question right now. I’m getting ready to pilot a new show but am not certain I should put it up before #2 and #3 are complete. There is a mini series called plastic island, I watched the first episode then didn’t come back for a long time. I somehow stumbled across it a few weeks later by dumb luck. I had completely forgot about the show. Had they all been up I would have watched them strait through.

    I guess I think if its a series that you know has an ending, I want them all up at once. i.e. Plastic Island

    If it’s a series that is ongoing, i’m up for waiting for it to air.

  8. Malcolm Thomson Tuesday, May 13, 2008

    @Jamison Tilsner: I agree that PromQueen got it more or less right. I only started viewing when there was an ‘omnibus’ feed of the first five episodes available. Then, hooked, I settled happily into the daily routine.

    I think that even with webisodic drama it’s wise to channel the ingrained ‘old TV’ soap-opera viewing habit; somehow “daily” is in our entertainment consuming DNA.

    Another PromQueen ploy I really admired was the fact that 80 x 90 seconds added up to two hours, opening up a ‘long tail’ DVD monetization possibility.

  9. I wonder then what becomes the difference between an episode and a part of an episode. Is it valuable to make the viewer think they’ve achieved the watching of multiple discrete units? You get a gold star, now come back!

  10. I think it’s the responsibility of producers to spit in the face of precedence in this case and do whatever they feel will compel their audience. If that means one episode every six months, then fine, the content may fit that. If it means live streaming every day, then fine. Both have worked before.

    The idea of “should” seems at this point a bit antithetical, the unsaid suggestion being that viewers will leave and not come back, and that revenue is therefore being lost. We’re all still married to the idea of viewership volume, when we should be married to the idea of creating the best experience for the most interested viewers.

    On broadcast TV, one eyeball is worth one eyeball, but online that one interested eyeball can make you more money than ten thousand uninterested eyeballs. People seem to be unable to grasp this idea; how many web series are being made nowadays because the producers think there’s a “big market” out there. This is how you make crap content. The producers end up twiddling their thumbs looking for a sign of approval from the marketplace.

    Interested users will seek out the content, talk about it, tell their friends, click on ads, visit twice a day, buy the t-shirt, buy the DVD, and sign up for the newsletter to hear about the next series you make. Keep THEM happy, and stop worrying about the masses of uninterested users that will parade past the content.

    The skill is in touching that interested viewer as soon as possible, and oftentimes it CAN be done before the first frame of the film even plays. They will not care how many episodes you launch with, they’ll be hooked.

    The problem that people have in grasping this stems from the fact that most people who make web series have no love for web series and web videos and web content. They’re simply speculators, trying to cash in on this new fad. Oh sure, they use the web and watch web videos, but see no real value in it, and see their viewers either as herds of petty techno-hipsters or as porn-addicts they can ween towards mainstream entertainment.

    1. anne Flournoy Rene Friday, July 30, 2010

      @Rene, I love the way you’re thinking (or were thinking in 2008…) Thank you for putting it out there!

Comments have been disabled for this post