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Summary:

As long as there have been web series, people have debated whether the term is inaccurate and derogatory. But when you talk to those working in the industry, it becomes clear that the term is here to stay — and that it’s a good thing.

lonelygirl15

I have been writing about online video since 2006, and I can’t tell you how many times I must have typed the words “web series” in that time. It’s a phrase that the industry has been using since the very beginning to denote serialized content delivered on digital platforms, and it is also a term that many within said industry have grown frustrated with.

Which is why I spent a day talking with some people who have been involved in the business of online video since its earliest days about whether or not it’s time to retire the phrase and come up with something that better captures the medium. I expected to write an obituary for the “web series.” Instead, I came to the conclusion that it’s here to stay, at least for the time being.

A big reason for that, according to Blip.tv VP of Content Steve Woolf, is that it’s the one term that people recognize. When Blip.tv relaunched the site last May, they settled on the tagline “discover the best in original web series,” but Woolf, who produced the long running series Epic Fu prior to joining Blip, wasn’t for it at first. “I didn’t like term web series — I never have. Coming to it as a producer, it always felt like we were saying this was the minor leagues,” Woolf said in a phone interview.

But when Blip tested a number of terms with focus groups, “nothing resonated with the public like web series did. People didn’t warm to it, but they knew what it was — there was instant recognition. The public needs to have some sort of term to attach to this stuff so they understand what it is.”

That’s not necessarily a good thing, according to producer Wilson Cleveland, who shared this via email:

When the Leap Year trailer was first released on Hulu last summer, I asked my 64 years-young mother to email the link to 10 of her friends of similar age and introduce it simply as “a new series Wilson’s working on.” All 10 watched and responded with various comments. Then I asked her to send the exact same link to 10 other friends of similar age, but to call it a “web series.” This time, four people claimed “the link doesn’t work;” two said the “video won’t play;” one asked “what channel is this on?;” one asked “How do I find this so I know when to watch?” Only two out of the second 10 watched the trailer without any questions or issues. Not exactly a scientific study but it made me wonder if placing the word “web” in front of “series” or “show,” could be hurting the cause at raising the broader awareness we need to grow.

Black Box TV producer Tony Valenzuela doesn’t call his show a web series — instead, he calls it an “online series.” “Online series speaks to me more — ‘web series’ could be anything. Phil DeFranco is a web series to me,” he said via phone.

But Tim Shey, who co-founded Next New Networks and, following its YouTube acquisition, became director of YouTube Next Lab, still actively uses “web series,” because it differentiates web content from television. While all entertainment might be heading towards convergence, that’s still a bit far away, and in the meantime web content is still very different from broadcast.

The differences between web and television are numerous. Just as one small example: Currently, television is still being made with the assumption that it’ll be primarily watched on large screens; producers aren’t necessarily thinking about production on a cross-platform level. Web producers can’t get away with that. One thing Valenzuela pointed out is that he realized that the on-screen text of Black Box TV episodes couldn’t be too small, because people watching on phones wouldn’t be able to read it.

Really, when you think about it, it’s hardly a surprise that so much web original content, even scripted series like The Guild, is based around vlog-style presentation. One thing that resonates across all screen sizes is a close-up on a person’s face, and accordingly the medium has evolved around that.

One of the biggest arguments against the term “web series” is that it doesn’t account for the fact that the web is only one place people are consuming content. But if you’re watching a web series on your smartphone or your television, it’s still something that originated from the web, and carries with it that legacy. “I think the ‘web series’ concept has evolved from being a type of entertainment that was ‘platform specific’ to one that’s ‘platform agnostic,'” Cleveland said. “The evolution of digital technology has been the most significant change agent in the evolution of the ‘web series’ simply because the delivery platforms have changed.” Cleveland’s branded comedy Leap Year, for example, was distributed via Hulu Plus, and was thus watchable across all platforms, including television.

The big differences between web content and television are in the production values, though that gap is closing with each passing year; the subject matter, which leans more toward niche audiences; the emphasis on audience engagement; and the genres that have been successful.

Valenzuela believes that a subtle AMC drama like Mad Men or The Walking Dead just won’t play online, as too much of the action is too subtle to hold fractured attention spans. “Cerebral dramas online have a really hard time getting an audience,” he said. The best dramas are lean-back experiences, and shows that originate on the web will always struggle with that limitation.

Woolf observed that while so much viewing of broadcast content is occurring online, “When you’re going to Netflix to watch a show, you probably intend to go full screen and invest in that show. It’s still a different experience than going to Blip and searching through shows there — you might have chat going, you might have email going. But when distribution to television is easier for web series, scripted dramas will have an easier time.”

In the meantime, as Shey pointed out, “Serialized storytelling is not an underserved audience — there are so many places you can go for that. The web serves audiences that aren’t served by traditional media.”

What’s working against the term “web series,” in the long term, is audience perception, but that’s set to change as the term becomes less about what web content isn’t and more about celebrating what makes it great — the interactivity, the originality.

“It’s really too early a medium and art form to know what we should call it,” Shey said. “‘Web series’ is really just a point of origin. But the answer is not going to come from top down. Ultimately, it’s going to come from the audience.”

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  1. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/b3QWnylp

  2. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series”: I expected to write an obituary for the “web series.” Instead… http://t.co/EnSxDzTE

  3. The One True b!X Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @NewTeeVee: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/b3QWnylp

  4. Chris Barnhart Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  14. Searle Morris Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  19. Peter Alexandrov Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  48. VideoMarketNews Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  49. RT @NewTeeVee: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/HXfpqC2I – nice piece by @lizlet

  50. Today American Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  51. RT @stevewoolf: RT @NewTeeVee: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/xzgiDv6s – nice piece by @lizlet

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  53. Cyril Simonnet Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  60. Lydia Schoenberger Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  64. Valentin Squirelo Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  65. Gotta say I disagree. Everything we try to do at Streamin’ Garage is thinking that web and TV is the same. We want to do the same subtleties that exist on TV as the web. As producer and director of hundreds of hours or TV and hundreds of hours of “web content” the only thing that is different about the web- is no notes form executives and therefore, it ends up more creative. – Mike Rotman

  66. I’m tired of hearing people don’t have attention spans on the web compared to people who watch TV. http://t.co/SN84QrkF

  67. mediamaispasque Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  68. RT @mikerotman: I’m tired of hearing people don’t have attention spans on the web compared to people who watch TV. http://t.co/SN84QrkF

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  79. Salazar @ Teelook Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  80. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/2hEc5UTQ (via @gigaom)

  81. Andrés Muñoz Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  82. Liz Shannon Miller Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  84. web television Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  85. Data Center Blogs Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  86. Web audience best for reality shows. Better cameras and writing needed. RT @gigaom: Better name than “web series”? http://t.co/S8W4Ttyo

  87. Fabrizio Ulisse Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  88. fabrizio ulisse Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  89. Actually, I always lay down in front of a 22″ screen when I watch to BlackBoxTV and I refuse to do it otherwise :).
    There are more and more viewers that watch online content during “tv” time slots, and the diffusion of connected tv will surely increase this habit.
    But of course, an online content is cross-platform and if your goal is to conquer as many harbours as you can, what is said in your article is true.
    I guess is more a matter of business plan and model: who’s my target? Who do I want to entertain? Do I want to be spread as much as possible? Where does my money will come from? ecc… Since online content is strongly target oriented, I believe that this is a time-to-time approach than a generalistic rule.
    (I’m going to check out Streamin’ garage Right Now ^^)

  90. #tech #news Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/cMyVsAG6

  91. Apps APIs Ecosystems Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  94. Ashley Spires Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  95. Marc Whitehead Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  96. Lindsey Becker Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  102. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/MetEYzbh via @zite

  103. Kimberly LeRiche Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  104. Amazing Adornments Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  108. Alonso Pirela Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  109. Quanah Zimmerman Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” – http://t.co/HFaDcj3B A post by Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet).

  110. Onlinegadgetshub Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  111. Chitrang Ambikar Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  113. AM van den Hurk Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  114. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” — Online Video …: As long as there have been web series, peo… http://t.co/Olvka4I9

  115. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/sSBpglxu via @editions

  116. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/Krw770xQ

  117. Brian Richardson Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @gigaom: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/a95ax8Da

  118. Ivan Djordjevic Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  119. @phillyd you got the cover on this story. RT @gigaom: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/UzGKLDPn

  120. RT @gigaom: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/a95ax8Da

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  122. Luci Westphal Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  123. Alexandre Gravel Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  124. Wilson Cleveland Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  125. Thanks for LY mention @lizlet ! RT @wilsoncleveland: @newteevee “Why We’re Going to Keep Calling Them Web Series” http://t.co/bMg3xdEa”

  126. CJP Digital Media Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Great article by @lizlet @newteevee “Why We’re Going to Keep Calling Them Web Series” @wilsoncleveland @leapyeartv http://t.co/kPjIg9FK

  127. Patrick Sullivan Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series.” Nice analysis by @lizlet: http://t.co/xKyVXqiJ

  128. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” – http://t.co/0MqjloKs (by @lizlet, via @quanahzimmerman)

  129. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/E5PwTUbd

  130. Christine Kirk Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/tRar4pJx cc @Jkirk22

  131. Wilson Cleveland Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  132. CJP Digital Media Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  133. Genevieve Rossier Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  134. Keith Privette Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  135. RT @NewTeeVee: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/b3QWnylp

  136. Dewang Mistry Sunday, December 4, 2011

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  137. Patrick Bardwell Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” – GigaOm – http://t.co/KTxu4nb9

  138. newmediaweekly Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/oXm2sYG3

  139. Should we be saying “web series”? @rhunterp @holidayeenee RT @gigaom: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/hEZNdkhE

  140. Gig Spotting Network Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/24H44sZS

  141. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/okVjGyu5

  142. littleyellowjacket Sunday, December 4, 2011

    INTERESTING // RT @gigaom: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/azaipPQK

  143. caspar sonnen Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Article: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/Wl9zKX0N #definitions

  144. Timothy Zachary Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  145. Hamilton Foster Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  146. Jessica Minchincon Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  147. Peter Alexandrov Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  148. Searle Morris Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  149. Peter Sidney Burton Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  150. Purvis Robinson Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  151. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  152. John Deptulski Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/OtVu4lad @_keithlynn

  153. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  154. Humphrie Denzill Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  155. Why we’re going to keep calling online shows “web series” http://t.co/iDiyYQLR #WebSeries

  156. Web series still denotes no budget go nowhere productions..

  157. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/Z2z8nqfE

  158. JaiKrishna Ponnappan Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “ #webseries ” http://t.co/7g849SAX

  159. “..Really, when you think about it, it’s hardly a surprise that so much web original content, even scripted series like The Guild, is based around vlog-style presentation. One thing that resonates across all screen sizes is a close-up on a person’s face, and accordingly the medium has evolved around that….”

    That’s one of the reasons our webseries, “Mind My Brains, Darling!” had no faces in it at all.

    When we were recently interviewing people for our upcoming documentary about webseries, we asked people at two geek-based conventions (VCON and Geek Girl CON) whether they knew what a webseries was and whether they had ever seen one. Many people had no clue what a webseries was, and of those who did understand the term many had never watched one (or recognised that they had watched one).

    There is a huge way to go yet before the concept of original programming for the internet (and beyond) is widely recognised. While the name is important, it isn’t the most pressing problem creators face at the moment.

  160. Ahmed Shihab-Eldin Sunday, December 4, 2011

    RT @mediacultures: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/okVjGyu5

  161. Ealeal Ginott Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” | Online Video News: http://t.co/FpX9pDzu

  162. ThinkLiveCreative Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/0MANnNw8 #GigaOm #Online #Video News

  163. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/bPgYewR9 #GigaOm #Online #Video News

  164. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/4bkgwFkB #GigaOm #Online #Video News

  165. Codspeak Productions Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/mkvxMF4I #Video (v @GraphicDesignNY)

  166. I like the term web series. It is the most descriptive term available. Furthermore, it is distinctive. While I am not a vaunted creator of a web series I have heard from many who often state that they want to do something different than Television, want to be more creative, have more control. If this is truly the case, then why not brand yourself with something distinctive that says to the audience, “we are different.”

    Seems like every three months or so the discussion of “what is a web series” rises to the surface. If one wants to simply ape Television then make Television; however, if one wishes to be innovative then break out of the mold.

    I have often used the example that early Television — Jack Benny, the Honeymooners, etc — were shot like live theater– panning left to right, fake sets, etc — until one day someone realized TV did not need to be shot that way. There is no reason web series cannot evolve into a distinctive medium.

  167. “Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series”” @gigaom: http://t.co/SOaZPdbw via @gigaom

  168. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/0lVZex8D

  169. Claudio M.O. Moura Sunday, December 4, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series”: I have been writing about online video since 2006, and I… http://t.co/IRKhVatu [GO]

  170. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series”: I have been writing about online video since 2006, and I can’… http://t.co/RjbarkCn

  171. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series”: I have been writing about online video since 2006, and I can’… http://t.co/vH4hCLQm

  172. I read this as websites but when i saw it was series my interest dropped

  173. I can definitely see the benefit of changing the name: http://t.co/2L2GyXwC. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” #storytelling

  174. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/OanSI9i2 – also harder to fudge figures online…

  175. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/CEkRcHgf

  176. I prefer the term “Web series” with a capital W. This is something I picked up from NY Times. It makes sense because the word “Web” is an abbreviation for World Wide Web.

    We should not forget the vision of Sir Tim Berners-Lee that helped create the global platform that made the Web series possible. The vision was to have a platform that was agnostic to the hardware used by the end user, but was global in reach.

    Each time we say Web series we pay homage to this vision, one that makes creative content available around the planet at the click of a button. We should be honored to be called Web series because the World Wide Web is allowing us to build a new World; one that supersedes the national boundaries and closed minded thinking of days gone bye.

  177. Eva BodinePro Monday, December 5, 2011

    New Media Series

    1. “New Media” was a term first used around the time of 3DO when quicktime was about the size of a postage stamp and the World Wide Web did not exist. At that time CD-ROM was the primary mode of distribution. Even the trade magazines that used the “New Media” name are long gone.

  178. Nice post by @lizshannon this weekend for @gigaom: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/bdyE894H

  179. RT@om Nice post by @lizshannon this weekend for @gigaom: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/pF7BofYT

  180. Erick Davidson Monday, December 5, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/mYDsYT4b

  181. Samuel Negredo Monday, December 5, 2011

    Discusiones terminológicas y algo más: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/fIpjW8IK Concluyen que el público dirá.

  182. Craig Alberino Monday, December 5, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/9a6jzMfE

  183. If you haven’t read it yet, @lizlet of @NewTeeVee writes about … Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/knx5g1Qf

  184. Dana & Shoshanna Monday, December 5, 2011

    Interesting! Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/IR0KEcFj

  185. RT @DanaAndShosh: Interesting! Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/IR0KEcFj

  186. paul kontonis Monday, December 5, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/dWcWQM1N

  187. RT @kontonis: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/dWcWQM1N

  188. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/jbv7izRN

  189. Eddie aka Brig Monday, December 5, 2011

    An interesting article about the usage and popularity of web series. Talks about @bliptv as well. http://t.co/06ixoFeL #webseries #indietv

  190. In case you missed it over he weekend: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/GDpW4tYo [from @lizlet]

  191. Aymar Jean Christian Monday, December 5, 2011

    There have been a lot of different terms for web series. In the 1990s it was “cybersoaps.” Then “webtoons” and “bitcoms.” Then “webisodes”! I think we can all agree “web series” is better.

    But the really fascinating thing is companies and producers have been trying to make the Internet the new television since before there was even video online — it’s sprinkled in the trade coverage from about 1994. Maybe the lesson is that, for the time being, the web is special and different. And I agree with Liz: we should all just accept that. After all, television was supposed to take over cinema, and TV is more cinematic than it’s ever been (plus people increasingly watch new releases on it), but it’s still TV. And it’s all good.

    1. Points to you for mentioning the most-hated of all terms: “webisodes.” Oh, webisodes.

  192. Annelise Larson Monday, December 5, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them #webseries http://t.co/0ywYCuyZ

  193. Deborah Brozina Monday, December 5, 2011

    Until web becomes main distrib to TV in Living Room. RT @kontonis:Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/xCW7P8v3

  194. Digital Series

  195. ThinkLiveCreative Monday, December 5, 2011

    Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/0MANnNw8 #GigaOm #Online #Video News

  196. Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/bPgYewR9 #GigaOm #Online #Video News

  197. RT @newmediaweekly: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/oXm2sYG3

  198. “Web series” – that’s fine, right? http://t.co/wC4oGeUh

  199. #WebSeries are here to stay! Get to know and love them http://t.co/mGyzTDKl

  200. Fernanda Pereira Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    RT @influencersAT: #WebSeries are here to stay! Get to know and love them http://t.co/mGyzTDKl

  201. RT @influencersAT: #WebSeries are here to stay! Get to know and love them http://t.co/4UClIYtV

  202. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  203. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  204. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  205. Harrison Slowde Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  206. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  207. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  208. RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  209. Guadalupe Blaise Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    RT @louiebaur: Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/qWEYZWco

  210. Fascinating article! Thoughts? http://t.co/O0oLXMlN #webseries #webserieschat #onlinevideo #newmedia #youtube

  211. RT @followthisisart: Fascinating article! Thoughts? http://t.co/O0oLXMlN #webseries #webserieschat #onlinevideo #newmedia #youtube

  212. The Web Series movement is off the hook! I have been a part of it since 2007 with the release of my show http://www.themisadventures.tv – this was an episodic SCi-Fi dramedy. Check it out if you’d like. I liked the article also. TV and Internet will coexist within each other once the streaming catches up and the controller becomes universal.

  213. The “Web Series” debate rolls on: http://t.co/02SHpbOz via @lizlet — @shiralazar and @marchustvedt might have a rebuttal!

  214. Matt Biscuiti Friday, December 9, 2011

    @gigaom has a great read from @lizlet: “Why we’re going to keep calling them “web series” http://t.co/hhJRmHMx

  215. Tommy Jarnemark Saturday, December 10, 2011

    We call it “TV4 play unique content” and not webseries, http://t.co/Q04Xk0Rs

  216. Johan A Larsson Sunday, December 11, 2011

    RT @tommyjarnemark: We call it “TV4 play unique content” and not webseries, http://t.co/Q04Xk0Rs

  217. “Web series” gets another nod. http://t.co/567Nxogt. And here’s why.

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