I was out on a two-week sabbatical last month, and thus am currently in the process of doing some major catch-up on the online video world. (Hey, Ryan and Janko, what’s this Google TV thing all the kids are talking about?) In my first big push to get up to speed on recent web series doings, though, I feel like I’ve chosen well, given that the The Webventures of Justin and Alden features almost everyone currently worth talking about in the space.
Sponsored by Trident Layers gum, Webventures stars Justin Tyler and Alden Ford as two hapless dudes hoping to get Felicia Day to star in their web series, assuming that will be the key to Internet fame and fortune. The five episodes ruthlessly parody major web series like The Guild and The Bannen Way, but do so with the guidance of some of the best comedic talent in web content today, thanks to direction by The Guild‘s Sean Becker and writing by Legend of Neil‘s Tony Janning and Sandeep Parikh. An almost countless number of web video stars appear over the course of the often very, very funny series, making it “the most epic Love Boat episode ever!”, as producer Wilson Cleveland said in an interview today with Pink Raygun.
Just one problem: The entire series was constructed around the Streamy Awards, with major plot points actually filmed at the event (including an onstage interruption captured during the live broadcast). The decision to do this, however, was made without realizing how badly things might go at the actual show. So I asked Cleveland a few questions via email about the architecture of the series and how Trident reacted to the execution of the awards (including the truth behind the rumors that Trident tried to get its sponsorship money back afterwards). An edited version of our conversation follows.
NewTeeVee: Were you worried, given how poorly received the Streamys were, that Webventures would be rejected by the web series community?
Cleveland: Not at all. In fact, we had the complete opposite reaction. In the days that followed, I was flooded with emails, DMs and Facebook messages from the community (including all five Streamys producers, I should add), saying they would do whatever they could to promote the series and support Trident. These are very smart people who know the web video community can’t afford to damage its perception of value (because it remains a “perception” by most brands, though it’s getting better), or appear unworthy of investment to advertisers — given that is where the majority of the sponsorship/funding is currently coming from. If you look through the comments for the fourth episode, where we reveal the onstage stunt with Justin, Alden and Felicia as part of the Webventures narrative, a lot of people commented that Webventures, in retrospect, ended up being the best part of the Streamys.
NewTeeVee: In the immediate aftermath of the awards, there were multiple rumors that sponsors wanted their money back — producer/host Jace Hall specifically called out Trident as one of them. Did Trident want to pull out of the project? And why did they ultimately not do so?
Cleveland: I have no doubt Jace overheard something to that effect. I think in the immediate aftermath anyone, whether it was a sponsor, nominee or attendee who had paid to be a part of that night, wanted their money back…with interest.
The truth is, like any major brand would in that situation, Trident had to review its options about moving forward, considering unlike many other sponsors, their affiliation with the Streamys was technically only the beginning of a much broader project that was literally tethered to the events that took place during the award show itself. Here was a brand that had spent the five days leading up to the Streamys funding a web series about two guys on a road trip…to the Streamys.
I give Trident an enormous amount of credit in deciding to move forward with Webventures. A lot of factors went into that decision, but the brand ultimately decided it would be unfair to judge the value of an entire community based on what they’d seen that night. That’s another reason I believe why the community has been so supportive of Webventures; it was like being given another chance to reinforce the value of what we’re all ultimately trying to do here.
I should also note that the Streamys producers apologized to the brand representatives immediately after the show and soon thereafter collectively delivered a plan designed to recoup a major portion of the brand’s initial sponsorship investment, which was much appreciated. Not a lot of people know that.
NewTeeVee: Can you clarify that?
Cleveland: The inappropriate content prevented Trident from leveraging certain components of the sponsorship package we’d negotiated prior to the event (in particular, we had the brand name and logo removed from on-camera segments [of the Streamys footage available online] that had inappropriate content…which was most of it). The Streamys producers came back with an equivalent dollar amount to cover those components and reallocated it for things like ads on the Tubefilter homepage, signage at meetups, etc. [For those unaware, Tubefilter's principles are also the producers of the Streamy Awards.]
NewTeeVee: Should the opportunity to create a web series around next year’s Streamys (or some other awards event) arise, would you do it? And what might you do differently?
Cleveland: I would absolutely do it. What I would do differently? I’d probably ask to see a final script as part of the contract, just so there were no surprises. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen what ended up happening in terms of the content, at least not to that extent, but If the series were tied into the content of the live show and dependent on the particulars of the brand/story, I’d make sure the host would be held as accountable as the producers in case he/she went too far off-book.
According to Cleveland, the series has received “one million unpaid/organic views” in just one month — which may in fact make it one of the few major success stories to come from this year’s Streamys after all.
Related GigaOM Pro Content (subscription required): Fact or Fiction: Where Is Branded Online Video Going?