Last Tuesday marked the premiere of two very different web series — a teen-skewing action comedy produced by a major studio and an independent sci-fi thriller — but one big thing in common: Both chose to debut exclusively on Facebook.
Aim High, created by Heath Corson and Richie Keen and produced by McG for Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, is the first pairing of Facebook and a Hollywood studio for a web original. Like other WB digital properties, it will also likely be packaged for other formats, such as VOD and DVD distribution.
The story of a teenager torn between his work as a highly trained government operative and his life as a struggling high school junior, Aim High‘s pedigree is reflected in the quality of production: Star Jackson Rathbone (Twilight) proves more than capable of carrying the show, and it’s a fun, fast-paced series.
“The pace was tailored for a savvy web audience. Meaning, the show jumps from, like, five different timelines. Sometimes in the same episode. We felt like this audience would be able to follow that without us having to spoon-feed them. And the great thing with digital is, if they don’t, they can always scrub back and watch something again,” Corson and Keen said via email.
Of course, in order to discover that, you have to be in the U.S. and logged into Facebook. (Update: You do not have to be logged into Facebook if you watch Aim High on Cambio.com.) However, logging in allows viewers to opt into the “Personalized” version of the series, which pulls information from the viewer’s profile and embeds it into the show at various points. The integration is relatively minor, and only occasionally a bit distracting, as seen below:
While it doesn’t necessarily add much to the narrative, it is an intriguing use of the technology — between the personalization and Rathbone’s Twilight fanbase, the show has accrued nearly 19,000 Likes five days after its launch, with more than 5,400 people “talking about this.”
The sci-fi indie series Continuum, meanwhile, doesn’t require any sort of log-in from its viewers: Instead, the first episode of three to be previewed on Facebook is openly available on its Facebook page. The 2001-esque tale of an amnesiac trapped on a lost spaceship by Pink creator Blake Calhoun has been highly anticipated since 2010, when production first began. According to Calhoun, the Facebook release is a “soft launch” to inspire interest in the full series, which will premiere in early 2012.
“With Pink I found it can take some time to build and find an audience — discoverability still being one of online show’s biggest obstacles, of course — so what I’m really hoping is this helps build awareness and ultimately an audience for the series,” he said via email.
Thus, Calhoun is focusing on metrics that measure the buzz being generated: Currently, the Continuum Facebook page has almost 700 likes, a number that Calhoun says has grown by almost 15 percent since the show’s premiere.
What’s intriguing about Facebook distribution is that it’s not really a platform tailor-made for watching video; there’s no embedding and the sharing interface is clunky. Plus, in the case of Aim High, requiring the audience to be logged-in Facebook users is an issue — while Facebook does claim to have more than 800 million active users, limiting access to viewers with Facebook accounts does mean losing a few viewers. The conventional wisdom of web content these days, after all, is that the easier it is for someone to find and watch your show, the more likely it will happen.
However, keeping your show exclusive to one site does make it easier to push out and measure metrics, including demographics. In addition, what Facebook-exclusive distribution seem to do is immediately create a community around a show, if only because you can see which of your friends are watching, as well as their comments. And in the case of Aim High, the personalization feature does reward those who choose to sign in; it’s not an arbitrary demand.
There are potential benefits and drawbacks — gentle readers, what do you think? Please feel free to share in the comments.