Is quarterlife‘s Heat Cooling Off?

31 Comments

The PR team for quarterlife emailed us a press release yesterday announcing that the web series had racked up an impressive two million views since its debut three weeks ago. Given the high-profile nature of quarterlife and its creators, we were interested in the numbers. But when we looked a little closer, the story they told was significantly different from what we had first thought.

What caught our eye in particular was the part about how quarterlife was “averaging a total of 250,000 views for each of the eight webisodes it has posted to date.” That’s impressive, and as it’s written could lead one to believe that roughly a quarter of a million people were following the show from week to week.

But upon closer inspection, the stats seem to indicate that audiences aren’t sticking around. Quarterlife is available on quarterlife.com, MySpace, YouTube, and imeem. Here’s a quick rundown of how each episode did on each of those platforms, except for the quarterlife site itself, as they wouldn’t release those figures.

quarterlife_numbers.jpg

The numbers were pulled from the playcounts available through the quarterlife channels on each site as of the time of the press release. Now, it’s possible that the discrepancy could be made up on the quarterlife site, but series co-creator Marshall Herskovitz said those numbers are “fairly small.” So most episodes, even older ones that have been up longer, fall well below the 250,000 plays per episode.

When asked about the disparity, a quarterlife spokesperson said they were just trying to give an aggregate number because so many people were asking for the data. Herskovitz insisted I was oversimplifying the statistics, noting that there are many variables associated with the show, such as time of release, the amount of promotion, etc.

It’s easy to blame the promotion your show receives, but when your playcount drops from nearly 650,000 on YouTube for the first episode to just a little over 19,000 for the second episode, your problems go beyond marketing. People just aren’t coming back.

While quarterlife — which had the good fortune of getting picked up by NBC amidst concern that the networks are running out of scripted content as a result of the writers’ strike — may be able to pass a lie detector with this release (2,000,000 divided by 8 does indeed equal 250,000), it’s unfair to count the simple average when so much of that number is weighted towards the first episode. This might not matter as much on a lower-profile web series, but quarterlife was created by seasoned TV professionals with a strong track record — it was supposed to herald a new era of web content.

If quarterlife can’t keep an audience, what does it mean for future web shows? Maybe the web is a truly level playing field where old teevee experience doesn’t matter. Maybe it means people really don’t want to watch dramas online. Or maybe it just proves that you can’t take a failed TV pilot and recut it for the web.

Whatever it means, while quarterlife may not be worth watching, its stats definitely are.

31 Comments

Felicia Day

Very interesting commentary here. My show “The Guild” reflects similar trends that Quarterlife is showing. My Episode 1 was at 250,000 hits when our 3rd episode was released. YouTube featured us then, and bounced us up to 700,000 very quickly. As of now, Episode 1 has over 1 million hits, and 2 and 3 are close to half a million. Number 4 is around 250k and 5 is at 150k 2 weeks out. What does this say? That featuring is everything. Anything that is promoted on the front page repeatedly is going to get a ton of views. Each of our episodes has been featured on the Entertainment page of YouTube, but only at the top of the page for a few hours, like other shows. Most of our traffic comes from word of mouth now. Whoever YouTube blesses with a prominent feature reaps the benefits. It’s getting the press’ eyes on subsequent episodes, when the series isn’t as “new” that’s the key. Blogs simply don’t want to post articles on episode 4 like they did on episode 1 and unless the video site has a financial stake in the series, they aren’t going to give that sweet front-page feature to you more than once.

Rekidk

The first Quarterlife video on YouTube received so many views because it was featured on the front page. Videos on the front page of YouTube regularly receive around 500k views, leading to approximately 2.5k subscribers for the YouTube account. 19k views on the second Quarterlife video is a lot for the video after a featured video.

In other words: the numbers aren’t dropping off, the first one was just unfairly skewed by YouTube.

milowent

Albrecht is guilty of picking a somewhat false angle and running with it, but the stats are the stats, and the referenced qlife press release was also somewhat deceptive — which is no doubt what caused Albrecht to go the way he did. (I’ve done the same for lonelygirl15 press releases — the post-season one finale press release was similarly flawed).

The only online series that purportedly is getting long-term high views is KateModern (which you can’t verify because bebo does not have publicly accessible view figures), and I suspect that is primarily because it is promoted heavily on bebo, i.e., on the front page ALL THE TIME. Myspace has not given a similar position to any online series. Short term features will boost the views of a single video, but building an audience online takes time.

Here, the stats for qlife are difficult to predict any long term trend on, but the 645K views on youtube for episode 1 of qlife are due to it receiving a front page feature – the holy grail of exposure for youtube. Before the feature, I am sure its views were ‘low” (less than 20K).

The sad truth is that building a decent audience for an online series is damn hard, and there’s no roadmap for success. episodic series by their nature are not “viral.” And qlife is using a medium where sex is the primary draw for video views (which Roommates knows). perhaps the best medium for qlife, where nuance can be conveyed to an intelligent audience, resides not in the bleeding edge of online video, or even TV, but an extremely old medium — BOOKS!

Eddie G

Marshall, what’s all with the hatred? I understand that it’s frustrating that you’re not doing the numbers that you’d like to but couldn’t you come up with something less bitter? I have tremendous respect for this project on many levels (format, distribution etc.) but your comment just took away a large chunk of that.

Paul Linstrot

I’m curious how you justify spending $300k to $400k per episode?<<<

If I’m not mistaken, this cost is to produce each 60 minute episode, which is then broken down into 6 webisodes. The internet is also not the same revenue model as TV, as like Mr. Herskovitz said, those massive Youtube views only occurred last week when wepisode 1 was featured/promoted. Unlike TV, viewers are not watching live, and so the amount of hits per episode can increase as new viewers discover the show. Finally the cost of production can be made up through more distribution such as TV (it’s going to NBC), international airings, new media deals (cell phones/airplanes), and DVD/download sales.

Is Quarter Life a made-for-TV show? Even if “Made for the Internet”, was it dependent all along on a TV distribution deal to survive?<<<

I don’t see why a show has to be only one. I’ve read a lot of criticism from people claiming qlife is just failed TV shoved onto the internet, which make it seem like the internet is some club that only the cool kids can get into. Why can’t the internet just be everything anyone wants it to be, including a jumping pad for TV, a trash heap for crap, or an outlet for old and new talent.

By the way despite what the author of the original article may think, I am quite enjoying quarterlife and find it to be of high quality in all regards.

Andrew Baron

I consider this story by Mr. Albrecht to be excellent work. The entire story is a chart, which as Liz says, speaks for itself. Granted, there could very well be many factors that render the conclusions way off base, though I can not think of any and Mr. Herskovitz, I did not find the explanation in your response.

I’m curious how you justify spending $300k to $400k per episode? This is not a sustainable model online at this time and so I would like to hear your thoughts on this. There must be something I’m missing in accounting for the viability of this type of work.

I have been producing serial content online now for 3 years, 5 times a week (as well as contributing to a lot of other related work and activity), and I have spent less $ in those three years than you have spent in two episodes. I can see I’m setting myself up here; you might very well consider the majority of the stuff I do to be really bottom of the barrel and Im willing to take that.

Nevertheless, as it may apply to others, how is it supposed to work?

While I expect (just a guess) that you have now gained a return on your investment for your deal involving TV distribution, thus leading to a successful venture monetarily, is Quarter Life a made-for-TV show? Even if “Made for the Internet”, was it dependent all along on a TV distribution deal to survive?

Regards,
Andrew

Alec McNayr

It seems like there are some questions on the surface issues of this story, but the themes mentioned are perfectly clear.

There is still no real success model for video serial content online. Even when the “big boys” from film and television do something for the web, it’s still an educated guess, and, as Marshall himself points out in his comment, the results of Quarterlife are positive, but not consistently so.

But I think that’s a good thing — it forces him (and all of us following along) to analyze two important things: a) what builds an audience immediately (you might call this “viral-ness” or “one-time attention”) and b) what builds an audience over time. I assume that most people reading this site are interested in the latter.

I think two things really affect the popular of online content — one is basic (consistency) and one is nebulous (value).

When considering the world of online video, consistency is rare. There are no standards of production quality, delivery schedules, writing, acting, authenticity. It’s all over the place. So, setting an expectation in the mind of your viewer and then consistently delivering on that expectation is a huge advantage over 99.9% of the market. This is an important lesson I learned from Ask A Ninja — their production values are not amazing, but their voice and delivery schedule are. I also learned this lesson on my web series, Flipper Nation. The production value was good and people responded, but we didn’t deliver new episodes to meet demand. So we lost out on an opportunity. Good learning experience. As for Quarterlife, the jury is out on whether or not a large population of people want to watch the show, but I appreciate Marshall taking a huge risk and promising to deliver regularly on his promises (high production value and regular, longer-form delivery). That’s a huge step in bringing all of our games to a higher level.

Secondly, value. This is harder to strategize. How do you tell your viewers that you value their watching your stuff? I bet that Marshall and his team know that, amongst the viewing audience of Quarterlife, there is a small audience of hardcore fans. His history and his paid-for promotions brought them in. And so, his work should be to incentivize this small group to become show evangelists. To promote the Quarterlife brand, to grow the overall numbers. To build the conversation. To reward them for doing so. Increased interactivity, increased exposure, celebrity, or access. These are all structures made for your core fans (not the casual viewer).

So, how do we build our core audience to go out and grow our overall numbers? Well, that’s the question really being asked in this article, I think. Sorry for the long rant. I’d love to hear how are other people here engaging their core fans and growing their overall numbers?

Liz Gannes

Mr. Herskovitz — I think if you read NewTeeVee, you’ll see our agenda, if any, is entirely the opposite of what you’re saying.

If Chris had simply posted the chart he compiled of openly available play counts for the series, the story would have told itself.

We aren’t counting anyone out, and will continue watching and following quarterlife.

Thanks,
Liz Gannes
NewTeeVee Editor

Marshall Herskovitz

I could tell from our conversation that Mr. Albrecht had already decided what he was going to write before he spoke to me. Your readers should know that this is actually a rarity. Very few journalists — and I’ve spoken to many over the years — have been as rude, condescending, and openly uninterested in what I might have to say about my own project.
Given that, I will offer a few responses here:
First — citing a 250K average was intended to convey that we had received these 2M plays after only eight installments, not the twenty or thirty one might expect from other, more frequently updated, online series. This was a fair point for us to make. As I said to him, the analogy is a film in limited release, where the gross is only $750K until you understand that means a per-screen average of $75K, which is fantastic. By the way, even if you take away the first episode, our average plays on MySpace are higher than any series other than Roommates (to which I happily defer since it is so superior to our work in every possible way…)
Second — Mr. Albrecht’s title is completely misleading. quarterlife is in no way cooling off. We posted our third highest number of plays just a week ago. And the huge play on YouTube just happened a week ago. A more accurate depiction would be that we had a huge number of plays — equivalent to a monster hit — for our first episode, then very high, but not as high, numbers for subsequent episodes. That might be the subject of a real analysis, which Mr. Albrecht did not supply. Instead, Mr. Albrecht implies that people watched the first episode and never came back. In fact, on Myspace, our first number has almost been equaled two other times.
Third — he essentially negates the importance of promotion, but in fact there’s a direct correlation between our number of plays and promotion. We had 600K plays for our first episode on YouTube because the episode was promoted. Subsequent episodes have not been promoted.
He can think what he wants about our series, but implying that we’re failing is dishonest and of questionable intent. There are many questions intelligent people can ask about how to disseminate content on the Internet, and whether “viral” is one process or an incredibly complicated series of processes that can be influenced by subtle forces. Our episodes are eight minutes long and don’t feature girls in bikinis on their promos. The fact that our virality might be influenced by that is something to be pondered and experimented with, not denounced by snarky pundits who haven’t put up their own money to create a new model for independent filmmakers, as we have done. Why our failure would please Mr. Albrecht so much that he must invent it is for him to answer. Perhaps he would prefer the Internet be entirely dominated by the large media companies, as has happened in television.

Frank Sinton

The same thing happens to websites that launch with a lot of hype: big spike at the beginning, then levels off to the “real audience”.

This is EXACTLY why we measure “stickiness” for web shows with subscribers, not views.

SR

My guess is that the episode 1 YouTube number represents some serious promotional placement by YouTube, trumpeting “yes, we have Quarterlife,” followed by very little YT support.

Also, looking at MS and YT, episode 1 went up 26 days ago on MS and “2 weeks ago” on YT. I wonder if the bump for ep 3 on MS represented some of those YT viewers checking out newer episodes on MS.

But the biggest issue for me with these numbers and all others is that they only represent people who STARTED the video stream. Whether they watched 9 seconds or 9 minutes, it counts the same. And given that MS autoplays the clip on pageload, I’m not surprised their numbers are high. But how many of those episode 1 viewers made it all the way through to the end of the episode? Until the industry starts pushing for a “complete views” or “more than 50% viewed” metric, or until we start seeing post-roll stats, we can only speculate.

It will also be interesting to see if traffic and interest spike up whenever NBC starts airing episodes. (And will those be on Hulu?)

Tim Street

Considering all things, I think Dallas based Blake Calhoun has done a better job with his numbers for Pink the Series on YouTube and he hasn’t had all the press that QL has had either.

His first episode of Pink has had almost 2.5 Million views.

mikecane

I’m on MySpace and you know what? I had no idea the show had started! MySpace didn’t send out any Bulletin (which is something Tom could have done to all MySpace users). I didn’t even think to look for their page to Add them. So in at least my case, the promotion of the series has been abysmal. I’d heard about it well before it began, then nothing since a mention of strike-plagued NBC picking it up. And now your article.

bensails

I agree. A heavily hyped show has a strong premiere but low follow-up numbers – this scenario goes down dozens of times each season on old TV, and I imagine it’s going to be happening more frequently online, as well.

That being said, the quarterlife guys pulled off a helluva sleight of hand, getting picked up by NBC.

Ryan

I think the bottom line is the show is just not that good. My concern is that I hope it doesn’t have a negative affect on the people who have actually created content for the internet that has true cross over touch points, and embraces the community and the technology, rather than just two old TV guys finally selling something to a social media company that they couldn’t sell to a network years ago…..The takeaway here is, make sure its good before you hype the hell out of it, no matter what platform it’s on! Content is KING.

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