Blog Post

Is There a Place for Long-form Internet TV?

Last week I met Yuri Baranovsky, the co-writer, director, and star of an internet sitcom called Break a Leg. The show, a dead-pan comedy featuring warring guilds, a meta-TV show, and a bunch of goofballs, is a poor man’s Arrested Development, and I say that out of love.

It’s a self-funded project, with only two episodes so far — the second one, debuting this week, took three months to make. (Episode 2, part 1 is embedded above.) But here’s the problem: the episodes are a half-hour long. The first 10-minute section of the pilot has 27,575 views on YouTube — a small triumph for the cast and crew. But it drops off dramatically for parts 2, 3, and 4 — and it’s easy to see why. It’s hard to watch a video in the little fuzzy YouTube screen, out of computer speakers that are less than flattering to the variable Break a Leg sound quality.

Jay Adelson, CEO of Revision3 — which hasn’t shied away from long-form video, racking up hundreds of thousands of downloads for hour-long shows of two dudes sitting around talking and drinking beers — said at a panel I led at the Web 2.0 conference last week that the majority of his viewers don’t watch his shows on their computers. Rather, they use their video iPods, and televisions hooked up to DVRs, media centers, and the like.

Baranovsky, as much blood and sweat as he puts into Break a Leg, readily admitted he has given little thought to getting onto such distribution platforms. YouTube is what everyone knows and visits. But as Apple TV, the Slingbox (and maybe web and software plays like DivX Stage6 and Joost) become more widespread, perhaps this will change. Meantime, Break a Leg is recorded in HD in the hopes some TV network will find it on YouTube and sign the whole kit and caboodle.

Yesterday I spoke with Doug Perlson, the CEO of newly founded and funded TargetSpot, which aims to insert ads in streaming audio, and later video. That’s not the stuff you’d get on your iPod; it’s coming through a live connection.

Perlson thinks the big opportunity is in long-form episodic content, the kind of stuff that’s for now just select TV shows offered by networks’ web sites. He is betting that the proliferation of long-form will be a tipping point for advertisers and online video.

That’s one way to clear out the user-generated riffraff, right? Mandate videos have to be at least 20 minutes long, and no it can’t be a static shot of a Yule Log. It’s the inverse of the 10-minute limit YouTube imposed to avoid uploads of copyrighted content. But for now, and the foreseeable future, clip culture is king.

18 Responses to “Is There a Place for Long-form Internet TV?”

  1. Shakir Razak

    The networks will re-assert themselves and their type of programming.

    At the moment actual tv programmes (minus crap) are about 22 minutes anyway -so what difference, except production quaity. Which does mtter.

    What might be accelerated is how much of non-network tv is stripped schedules; the internet allows a personalised version of that with shorter episodes. that’s all. [like pre-developed 80-episode short-form runs].

    Just as cable allowed, the current transition will allow a few new companies to develop and grow, in this current “new” sector, but just as IAC is already doing, this will all become part of the same media-empires we so love!

    Ultimately, their might be some democratisation of cultural-seeding, but in the main, with the way the communiactions industry works, The internet will simply be a pipe, indistinguishable for the content it delivers via mobile, stb, mpc, broacast towers, dvb-h, games-system, mobile (cell) -including passed to/through mobile, but projected/played onto a big screen.

    Content will be specially created for some fomats, but most likely it will be reversioned of un-broadcast/tertiary content when it’s not the same universal content. [think summaries/synopsis, 7minute sopranos].

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

  2. Thanks everyone for your comments and your varying points of view.

    As far as having full TV on the Internet — I’m going to have to disagree. I think it might be a concept that’s harder to grasp now, but it was similarly hard to grasp when TV’s first came out — and that changed as well. I am of the opinion that — if you tell them, they will come. The Internet is going to change entertainment, absolutely, but is it going to abolish long-form? I don’t think so.

    And, to please Liz — I’ll conclude with this: as audiences grow bored with kittens, they’re going to come and watch Break a Leg… with… mittens.

    I’m definitely not a poet.


  3. mitch.s


    um, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it (I know, that’s a cliche, but, there’s a reason cliches exist).

    try running your numbers with an ad supported model with a net $5/cpm back to Producers — 1000x5x10=

    — mitch

  4. I watched Break A Leg six months ago when the first ep came out, and it’s ok.
    Lets take Arrested Development, whose figures of 3m could not cut it on Fox, but probably, around the world, has over 10m fans.
    If the cast/crew made an episode, and distributed it securely for $1 per episode, each episode would rake in $10m dollars at a cost of $1.3m dollars (average cost of this show’s episodes).
    That would be fantastic – AD should not have died, it’s just too good for that. There’s a big profit to be made and I wish this show came back this way.

  5. mitch.s

    Basic rules: Long form content costs more to produce. A “regular” television series is ONLY a success if it garners a pick-up for 3-seasons (66 eps), allowing for syndication and international sales.

    So, while technically long-form may be shoved through internet television pipes and screens, the economics aren’t there to support it. Not even close.

    And, I agree with some of above comments about “content shaping” for today’s audience. Replicating old 1/2 hour or hour models would be equivelent to going back to screenplays with 180 pages of dialogue and 3-6 cuts per minute. Won’t happen.

    The economics aren’t there. The audiences aren’t there. So, why strive for it?

    Yup, I like that 2-Act :04 minute structure over 80-episodes too. More like tapas, than “snacks,” a bit more thought put into the presentation…

  6. John Gorman

    Snacks…that will always be it online! Web will never go longform, TV and also mobile devices which are with you when you have some down time will be the dinner table for full meals.

    The question is what, who, and where will people snack. Desired content hasnt changed since the days of the Romans. Sports, drama, comedy, current events and of course T & A/Sex.. They all are snackable, and to Liz’s point satisfying in terms of emotional connections for advertisers, IF packaged up right and properly targeted. User generated will have a place, but as mentioned before most fall under the law of diminishing returns.

  7. I really enjoy Break a Leg and am adament about the fact that finding a way to present an episode in its entirity is crucial to the success. With a hardcore fan base it is do-able to split them into sections and still get the views, but the popularity potential for a full length episode is incredible. While you’d be hard pressed to catch me devoting a whole hour to just watching some show on the internet, Break a Leg has the elements that definitely make it watchable for long periods of time. I hope to see them overcome the YouTube limits and try and play in the big boy games <3.

  8. mark heron

    Shaping episodic content for today’s audiences, whether TV, internet or mobile is all about going short and sweet. Or, having ability to dip in-and-out while not losing track of story (i.e. watching 4 shows simultaneously with remote).

    For internet tv, in the past year, we’ve seen good efforts at shaping content, telling stories, testing new story structures (episodic, weekly and seasonal) and the respective episodic running time durations.

    There is the now classic 1-act, :01-:03 minute story, which is maturing with PROMQUEENTV, introducing a mandated novela-isque end-hook. But, read the MYSPACE comments, the audience doesn’t seem terribly satisfied with running time or format. Sometimes they venture into a 2-act structure, but, it’s rare (but, better when they do).

    It’s gruelling to have to force a new cliffhanger every :90 seconds — why? Because you are left with watching nothing but “set up,” with no “pay-off” until late in the Season. Payoff = satisfaction for audience, otherwise, keeping track of all the “set ups” is just too much work for an audience.

    The 2-act, :03-:05 minute stories, such as YOUNGAMERICANBODIES (on NERVE) seem much more robust from a story perspective. And, they allow pay-off scenes to be intermingled. I’d say these are the best episodes right now for considering running time and story structure for new audiences (including mobile).

    Also worth noting are the the 4-act, :07-:09 minute episodes from zyntroPICS productions on their alamoheightsSA series (in both English and Spanish). Similar novela/soap format as PROMQUEEN are undertaking, but, they’d have done better to cut each episode in two, as 2-act, :04 minute episodes, which is what they are representing future series will be shaped as.

    Interesting, zyntroPICS first introduced the 80-episode “season” concept to advertisers, allowing them to commit to a 4-mo. campaign window, and that 80-episode “season” has been further standardized by PROMQUEENTV. It’s not just about the Episodic running time, it’s about the Seasonal Story and audience retention.

    • It should be noted that alamoheightsSA was the first internet series that wound up with a broadcast license on the LATTV network in 5 US cities, running in prime time, where 3-episodes per night were delivered in a 1/2 hour Prime Time slot.

    YOUTUBE has done to content running-time what MTV did to # of edits per minute edit style. The half-hour and hour format is over — the audience isn’t there.

    A year from now, a new “standard” will seem natural. And, unless there is audience satisfaction for the story, the advertising space within and around the Content is worth nada.

  9. ohigotchya

    as attention spans are dwindling, short form content will continue to do the kindling.
    I think people can only handle so much of the inane YouTube world. Once people have “seen it all” (piano playing cats? That’s one less thing I’d expect to never see)…. we might be forced to revert to seeing things that actually require creativity and intelligence.