Blog Post

How Long Should a Web “Season” Be?

Network TV series generally have 22 episodes per season, cable series hover around the 13-episode mark, but there is no standard “season” for web series. The prevailing theory seems to be make as many as you can — but is that always better? Given the attention span of online audiences, asking them to stick with you over countless episodes seems risky.

Roommates had 47 episodes. Quarterlife is up to 27. Prom Queen had 80 episodes, and its sequel Summer Heat had 15. LonelyGirl15 seasons one and two have a whopping combined 427 episodes.

I understand that with each episode being between 90 seconds and three minutes, it could take a ton of episodes to complete a story arc. But are people sticking around for the whole series? A rough look at the data suggests a mixed answer to that question.

To see if there are any attendance trends along the lifespan of a web series, I looked at the four web series listed above. Then, I pulled and assembled the play counts from each episode for each series into a chart. Caveat: I only pulled them from their “homebase” for traffic and did not include all of the syndication partners. For instance, I only used MySpace numbers for Roommates, quarterlife, Prom Queen and Prom Queen: Summer Heat. For LonelyGirl15 seasons one and two, data was pulled exclusively from YouTube. The rationale for this is that each source was a main (or exclusive) distribution outlet for each series, and once people knew where to watch one episode, they knew where to come back if they wanted more.

Between frolicking by the pool and test driving Ford automobiles, Roommates, pulled in 6.2 million plays over 45 episodes. A look at this graph shows that after the big spike in traffic from episode 13 (titillatingly titled “The Exhibitionist” with a thumbnail of a girl stripping in the shower), traffic settled down in the tens of thousands (the spike from the episode title “Wet and Wild Car Wash” notwithstanding).


This might be where I eat a little crow, but it looks like Marshall Herskowitz’s ode to whiny twenty-nothings is actually finding an audience. Though it too fluctuates, it seems to consistently pull in around 100,000 viewers per episode on MySpace.


Though Prom Queen enjoyed some initial bumps in traffic, its traffic really died around the episode 20 mark, with traffic only breaking 100,000 mark sporadically across the rest of its run.


Just like in the movies, maybe the sequel wasn’t such a great idea. Summer Heat went cold immediately, barely breaking 50,000 plays out of the gate and spending most of its time drawing fewer than 20,000 viewers. No wonder Eisner lost money.


Ugh. The LG Army is going to crucify me in the comments section for this one. LG data is harder to track. The show was on Revver for a while, it has a presence on MySpace, and not all videos are submitted to the “lonelygirl15” channel (in keeping with the shows intricate plot, different characters upload videos through different accounts). Since YouTube’s Lonelygirl channel had the lion’s share of plays, that seemed like a reasonable measure of the show’s popularity.

LG15‘s first season certainly held its audience. Though the spikes in traffic didn’t cross the million mark as often after episode 31, the show continued to rack up consistent six-figure plays. That’s great considering its episode count was over a hundred at that point.


Maybe it was the loss of Bree-nnocence, but the second season of LG15 definitely dropped off a cliff, with plays stuck down in the tens of thousands, and far fewer episodes crossing the 100,000 threshold. Perhaps they should have just let Lonelygirl go and come up with another show? (Yes, I know about KateModern).


Oh, don’t let that giant spike in traffic fool you. That 4-million plus performer is the most-watched LG15 video of all time, and I’m not sure what it says about our society or Internet culture (other than “duh”), but the name of that episode is “Girl Tied Up” and featured a cute girl in restraints. Here’s a revised chart without that episode.


So what does all this tell us? Well, individual episodes within a web series season spike wildly from episode to episode, which makes sense in an environment where something else entertaining is just a click away. Plus, since they are all on the web, we can access them whenever we like, at least in theory. The fact that episodes posted months ago still don’t generate plays suggests that people aren’t going back.

To get some perspective, I spoke with TV by the Numbers guru Robert Seidman. “Barring special events, the [TV] numbers don’t vacillate that much. The numbers don’t change week to week, but year to year there are changes.” Again, this makes sense for TV where the longer time format allows viewers to create an emotional attachment to characters and return from week to week to watch them.

As we all know, the online video industry is still finding its legs. We don’t have a quantifiable standard for measuring hits, and we’re just starting to experiment with episodic storytelling. But perhaps, we should make our experiments a little shorter.

25 Responses to “How Long Should a Web “Season” Be?”

  1. modelmotion

    Great article. I agree with some of the previous comments that RedEarth88 is a very promising show. It is great to see how this genre is expanding and the different approaches that are being experimented with.

    Thanks again for such a well documented article.

  2. virginian9000

    Liz “Thanks for the tips on Redearth88. Chris promises he will do a piece on them soon. Check back next week. :)”

    Wow, that’s great!! As a huge fan of the show, I can’t wait to see it. Do you happen to know when that is scheduled to be posted?

    Well, I have the RSS feed in my reader, so I should see it either way. Let me know! Thanks.

  3. Chris Albrecht

    Thanks, Neil,

    I see what you’re saying, and this is by no means the final, comprehensive word on the subject, but I was trying to figure out if/why web series go on for so long, especially in an ADD environment like the web.

    Is it better for LG to go on for 400+ episodes, or is it better suited to spinning off properties like Kate Modern that keep the mythology going without going stale?

  4. Great article, Chris!

    Still – the obsession with “Overnights”! Or the-closest-equivalent-we-can-get-to-them!

    The level of analysis around at the moment
    – my own groping in the dark included –
    feels about as sophiscated as commenting on TV in the 1950s using radio network criteria.

    The total ‘views’ Season 1 of Katemodern, for instance, is still rising. What does that mean? Is that relevant?
    Does it matter that the vid eps are ‘archived’ on youtube rather than bebo? “Long tail” anyone?

    I don’t know what it all means – but I do try to catch myself when using TV criteria to judge online shows and avoid using “Its just tv down a telephone cable”-type comments (just as TV was “radio with pictures” 50 years ago)

    There’s no analysis, for instance, of the activity ‘away’ from the vid postings – forums, fan videos etc etc etc
    Even the ad industry hasn’t got its head around people discussing openly with each other how effective or clunky a product integration is executed.
    What does that all mean? For example, is an advertising message is more effective if people make the effort to post comments on how they did not enjoy an integration? I guess we’ll work it out as the shows come and go!

  5. This was actually really interesting to look at, how long did it take you to come up with all the stats on this? I have been taking a pretty close look at Quarterlife lately, especially with all the NBC talk that has been revolving around it. I have heard a few things about Lonely Girl, but haven’t made the time to get around to watching it yet. I actually have created a few shows of my own on the internet, its encouraging that shows like Lonely Girl and Quarterlife, are pulling a considerably consistent audience for each webisode. Now all of the Broadband Distributed Content we see on the net is getting Primetime Emmy consideration. I am actually working with the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and as a creator of my own content this is great news. I highly encourage you check it out at, its awesome, as we all can see the online video industry is finding its legs, but it seems to be the way of the future in watching television.

  6. True views can never be really summed up unless you have a program that really gets hits across all platforms, and there isn’t anything out there yet that’s official. I’ve heard the numbers on the shows are in the 100,000 an episode range, also there are a lot of views on comedy series like, they also span worldwide based on press in different countries and run on platforms worldwide from veoh to google to megavideo to metacafe, etc… The fact of the matter is, it will come down to quality produced shows in 2008, and there are only a few of those, Quarterlife doesn’t count because of it’s inflated budget and the fact that it’s a TV show and always was a TV show before it went online. Nowheremen is also another show that seems to be garnering hits on a global scale, you guys are always looking just at lg15, prom queen and roommates, open up your horizons to all the amazing shows that are out there that do have audiences and loyal ones at that.

  7. great article chris. the lg15 stats were reasonably derived. the revver versions never got huge views (20K was avg for a awhile).

    i think the reason we see spikes across online series is that the online distribution platforms (most notably youtube) are designed to showcase individual videos instead of series.

    so a video called “girl tied up” can be huge, but the trickle effect to the series is small. but the creators of thezs series want to say “our videos avg X views”, and need these Girl tied up vids to up those averages. indeed, individual vids in most series are placed to try to maximize the views of that one video. The thumbnail on “girl tied up”, obviously, was panning to the ubiqitous viewer on youtube who still hopes he will stumble upon porn. a few of the roommates vids (the ones that did best) also had suggestive titles and thumbnails that worked beautifully. same thing with prom queen.

    the core audience of lg15 is probably around 30,000 or so, but they inevitably get more views for some videos that make the most viewed lists on youtube. Those are additional ad impressions, even if they are aren’t from consistent viewers.

  8. Jazmyn Grey

    This was a great and informative article, but I think you missed a great opportunity when you didn’t cover Redearth88.

    It is a series that is definitely on the rise right now, with unique and interesting story lines, and very relateable characters, and smart writing.

    It was created by Jeromy Barber, and Glenn Rubenstein, the creator of OpAphid, Tachyon, and Brother as well a few other notable characters who’s episodes are often touted as fan favorites.

    Another great facet of the show is that the people who write it try to remain in touch with their audience, maintain a relationship not just as fans but as people.

  9. This is very interesting analysis Chris, thank you.

    I’m still speechless over the Lonely Girl spike. That week more people watched LG than most shows that air on the CW broadcast network. Even Gossip Girl, which is widely accredited, incorrectly in my opinion, as a success because of “internet download” success on itunes. That data is fairly meaningless though because even 5,000 people downloading and paying $1.99 for it will shoot you to the top of the list. GG does ~3 million viewers for a new airing, repeats perform considerably worse.

    Do we give the producers of LG credit for not sticking with “Restrained Lonely Girl” as a ratings ploy, or are they idiots for not doing so?!

  10. Very rad, Chris. Thanks for hooking this up.

    While series length is certainly an important determinant of a show’s success, I think more telling is series frequency. A cursory look at your numbers suggests — though it’s not entirely clear — that audience drop off is less severe (although no less inexorable) when a series posts daily. With a series like Prom Queen, however, the episodes are so brief that it’s possible to catch up quickly once a week — a potentially more rewarding viewing experience, a la watching tv seasons on DVD.

    IMHO, I think web producers need to concentrate less on season length — an ever-more anachronistic measurement based on old advertising and production needs — and more on show length and narrative. Pack the action tighter. Give the audience a reason to come back every day, and they will.

  11. virginian9000

    Chris, great article. I was shocked to see quarterlife doing better as I do remember that post you did. Perhaps its the run-up before they appear on NBC?

    There is another web series that I am a huge fan of that I think you should check out. Its called redearth88 and you can find the playlists on the redearth88 youtube channel. One of the main characters, rachel, has gotton over one million views over her past five videos. This series is on its way to being big. In my opinion, redearth88 is much better than the web serieses listed here, especially lonelygirl15 and quarterlife.

    The series was created by Glenn Rubenstein, a former writer and director for lonelygirl15, and Jeromy Barber, an independent film producer. Glenn Rubenstein was the creater for OpAphid, which was its own series in 2006 and was integrated into the lonelygirl15 storyline. The redearth88 story has brought back the characters of OpAphid, Tachyon, Brother, and warpylol which all appeared in the lonelygirl15 series. The characters are now a part of redearth88.

    Redearth88 is fun interactive drama. It has an ARG component to it and some unique fan interaction. Fans have been given off-screen cameos among other things that make this series very fun to its fans. Also, I think the storyline is awesome so far, and speculation is running rampant about what’s going to happen next.

    I know you are following a lot, Chris, and I live to give work to people. :) just kidding, but I do think redearth88 should be on your radar. It has the potential to be huge. Hey, what’s one more.

  12. Great article, Chris.

    If you were able to pull the numbers from the shows’ own websites, I’m wondering if you’d see any change in the charts. My guess is that a lot of regular viewers are watching the programs at their specific URLs, so the graphs of the play counts at and wouldn’t spike nearly as much. Probably not enough viewers at those locations to smooth out the graphs of the overall numbers, but still not an insignificant amount.

    I also agree with you about shorter seasons. One show that does this really well is Instead of a long, continuous series, they have multiple, regularly scheduled seasons of about 9-12 episodes a piece. They also release random clips in between seasons to keep viewers watching and give the creators a break from the story line. I think it’s a great model.

  13. Chris Albrecht

    Hi Jeff,

    This is certainly a topic I’d like to explore with other series. But editorial deadlines being what they are, I didn’t have time for this story. Look for a follow up at some point.