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.

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