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Summary:

In the web series world, success can be tough to define — for every Guild there’s the series that did help its creator land a more prominent gig, or led to a bigger deal. So what are some wins for the space?

guild season 4 finale pic

In the independent web series world, success can be tough to define. Sure, there are bootstrapping shows that are undeniably winners, but for every Guild there’s the series that may have never reached mainstream success, but helped its creator land a more prominent gig, or led to a merchandising deal or adaptation into another medium.

For example, The Guild started out as independent production, completed with the help of crowdsourced funds before making a deal with Microsoft for distribution. But it encompasses every element of web series success — it was picked up by a major distributor, has lead to spinoff projects in other formats like comic books, and helped those involved find other projects — not just Felicia Day, but also Sandeep Parikh and Jeff Lewis.

What other shows represent success of some sort in this space? Below is a list representing some of the best examples out there for independent creators. The three parameters for success we’re using here: The series was picked up by a major distributor, has made real money through independent distribution, and/or has led to a deal for those involved to do larger projects.

Undoubtedly, there are some shows I’m overlooking here. But that’s because there have been many big wins in the space over the past few years.

lonelygirl15: Produced quasi-independently (with some support from the Creative Artists Agency), this series blossomed into long-running web serial. Subsequently, the production team has evolved into new media studio that partners with brands and celebrities to fuel web content.

Sam Has 7 Friends: Produced independently as a web series and acquired by Vuguru, creators Big Fantastic went on to produce Prom Queen, Sorority Forever and many other original web series.

Sanctuary: Produced independently as a web series, picked up by Sci Fi Channel (before it was SyFy) and adapted into a television series, now in its third season.

The Burg: Produced independently by Kathleen Grace and Thom Woodley, who then got the opportunity to create The All-For-Nots, an original series for Vuguru. Grace went on to work for Next New Networks; following the Google acquisition, she is now Head of Creator Outreach for YouTube.

Easy to Assemble: Produced independently in the form of Supermarket to the Stars, then found sponsorship with IKEA.

Dorm Life: Produced independently, got major sponsorship in Season 2 from Carl’s Jr.

Old Jews Telling Jokes: Produced by Jetpack Media, breaks even on production but published a book compilation last fall.

Riese: Produced independently as a web series, now running on syfy.com domestically and on other sites internationally.

The Mercury Men: Produced independently as a web series (never distributed), picked up by SyFy for distribution.

Universal Dead: Produced independently, acquired by Unconventional Films for adaptation into a 3-D feature.

Mortal Kombat: Produced independently as a short film, picked up by Warner Bros. for a web-distributed series running on Machinima.com.

Working Class Foodies: Produced through the Next New Creators program, recently announced cookbook deal.

Asylum: Produced independently, picked up by BET along with three other series.

There are plenty of other examples, and if there are glaring ones, the comments are an excellent place to share them. The key thing is this: Success is often dependent on what you hope to achieve — knowing that and planning for it is half the battle.

Thanks to Cyndy, Modelmotion, Mathieas, Jason, Rebecca and the others who chimed in with their suggestions of shows for this list!

  1. Another indisputable success is DECA’s Momversation which received more than 20 million views in 2010 through syndication across sites like Hulu, ABC.com, TLC.com, Momversation.com as well as hundreds of top mom blogs. Dozens of advertisers have sponsored the series since its inception in 2008. Here’s a link to the series on ABC.com, where Momversation is currently being promoted on the homepage: http://abc.go.com/watch/clip/momversations/SH88884EF4/PL5543941/VD5586892/parenting-advice-from-your-friends-or-parents/momversations

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  2. There are countless “web series” out their, a lot of them are lacking what I call the “CQ Factor” (Compelling & Quality) for short-form TV. There are a few production houses rising to the occasion, like Pyramid Pictures and their “Osiris” series (in production, see trailer on YouTube) which screams “Look at Me!!!”

    In order for these short-form TV series and Films to really thrive they need a home and YouTube is not going to cut it for serious production companies, nor will major networks who pick up 1 or 2 “web series” a year and put them on website without true ecosystems, that they can survive a grow in through advanced search and cross-pollenation.

    What I am saying is short-form TV and Film content needs “niche specific” short-form networks to help produce, incubate and distribute content. Just like the major networks do for traditional TV series and Films. There are a few “Mini-Networks” that get it like Revisions 3, they stay in their lane of tech and distribute well over multiple-connected platforms. Others are just aggregators trying to be all things to everyone. Hulu doesn’t count because it just makes “the majors” content available everywhere, but kudos to their distribution model.

    Let’s look at it like Sports, You have the NFL (Major) and CFL (Minor), NBA/CBA, and ofcourse Baseball has Major and Minor League. We need to be more aggressive of creating “Minor League Networks” that don’t necessarily compete with major networks but act as a incubator for shows that get cancelled or they dont pick-up for one reason or another. Also, for production companies who create short-form TV & Film content to grow & monetize. Look out for Q3030 Networks, who is creating a home for the “Urban” niche. There are a few other that get it like,The Surf Network & Moto Network.

    I can go on forever in this space…which is my passion!

    Marq Sears
    Founder/CEO
    Q3030 Networks

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  3. Interesting article!

    We make the show ‘Zomblogalypse’, a comedy-horror about friends living alongside zombies. I’d call it a success in that lots of people like it, it’s had lots of views, and its followers talk about it and share it around.

    We learned early on from web series icon Felicia Day that a small, unknown web series isn’t going to make a lot of money, and certainly when you have no ‘star power’ to speak of. But we’re happy with the cult status of it now, and how it’s created a following for our other projects, both online content and features that we’ve shown in cinemas, and just about allowed us to gain the notoriety to get other projects off the ground, including shorts, features and a Zomblogalypse comic.

    YouTube views have been slow, Dailymotion views better because they feature us regularly in their Web Series slot. YouTube can seem like a minefield of dross, where views don’t necessarily mean anything as clips of babies and cats can get millions of views while your humble web series gets a few thousand.

    We’ve just about broken even with show costs, as we raised money from fans to make Season 3 and then sold DVDs of Seasons 1 and 2. We’re currently debating whether to just release Season 3 as a download, which would make sense for a web series after all.

    That’s our penneth worth, anyway! Interested to read other users’ comments.

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  4. This is truly the future of entertainment!

    I especially love Sanctuary, Mortal Kombat & Riese… New media/Web Series is truly a fantastic platform to test the waters before a show is given any real interest, which means 2 things, shows get a fair chance of making it big if popular(which usually involves having some degree of quality, which the mentioned 3 have outstandingly shown) and viewers get more content and a voice to actually express which show they want to keep.

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  5. There are many ways to define “success”, but it’s important to differentiate between web series that lead to personal success for their creators, and web series that are actually financially successful. My definition of “success” for a web series is:

    1) It attracts a large audience, day after day or week after week
    2) That audience is large enough to attract advertisers or satisfy the series distributors, who are using the series to accomplish other business goals.

    Under this definition, “The Guild” is successful, because it attracts a large, repeatable audience, and it satisfies Microsoft’s desire to attract users to Xbox Live. “Sanctuary”, in its television form, is attracting enough viewers for the SyFy network that they’re keeping it on the air for multiple seasons.

    However, most of the series that you listed represent personal successes for the creators but not financial successes. The prototypical example is a TV show: “Freaks & Geeks”. The creators and stars have gone on to have very successful careers, and the show is still loved by its audience, but it only lasted 18 episodes on NBC.

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  6. woo7, shout out! Nice to have a list like this. Thanks so much.

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  7. What about “Doctor Horrible’s Sing Along Blog”? It was incredibly successful! Out of all web series mentioned, it is the only only for which I own the DVD and soundtrack- that is a huge accomplishment … it also won an Emmy. ;D

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  8. “Funemployed” produced last year by Kevin Wu (KevJumba) & Wong Fu Productions in their spare time and for fun.

    http://bit.ly/FunEmployedWebSeries

    12-episode series + a viral music video + outtakes = 15,000,000 views. Official outtakes channel garnered 162,000 Youtube subscribers.

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  9. There are so many different ways to measure success for web series:
    Critical acclaim.
    Building a big engaged audience.
    Making money.
    Attracting advertisers.
    Getting a TV deal.
    Using a new(ish) medium in creative ways.
    Telling a good story beautifully.
    Web series creators judge their success differently than others. Many of us are trying to do something that we simply cannot do inside the traditional television industry: create a bond with our audience. In the mass media, the relationship between the story teller and the audience is lost. The business of TV is bringing eyeballs to advertisers. The viewer is a commodity and the storyteller is almost incidental to the whole thing.
    When you create a web series, you can get to know your audience and tailor your story to them in a different way. You can build an almost intimate relationship with the people who watch your show.
    Sure, I’d like to make a lot of money and have millions of people watch my series, but there is also incredible satisfaction in knowing I’ve made a terrific piece of entertainment that the kids who watch it really care about.

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  10. You forgot Red vs. Blue, which is easily the most successful of the machinima genre, in no small part due to the aid and blessings of Bungie and Microsoft.

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