Is There Life Left in The Remnants?

Though Charlie’s Angels and Big Fish screenwriter John August’s web pilot The Remnants was beloved by fans and NTV Station alike, as of this writing August says the series is more or less dead in the water.  This week, he addressed the outpouring of positive fan response on his blog, outlining the hurdles that stand in the way of a Remnants revival.  But NewTeeVee, being a fan of things that are good, reached out to some online video businesspeople to see if and how they thought The Remnants might have a chance of becoming the Little Web Series That Could.


The Remnants from John August on Vimeo.

The Remnants already has a promise from NBCUni Digital via 60Frames for its distribution, but that deal is contingent on the show finding a sponsor.  So far, one has yet to materialize.  With material this good, why? And what other options does the show have?

August laid out some interesting facts about the production.  First, and perhaps most unusually for a web series, from the six-person cast to the crew of 15, everyone got paid.  Together with the cost of shooting, the budget stands at $25,003, which as August said, is on the high end for a web series but really, really cheap for a TV show. In a perfect world, August said, he would produce a 10-episode run, a possibility he has been able to “mentally [move]…from the ‘Impossible’ to ‘Unlikely’ box” as a result of all the fan support. But he still cites numerous obstacles, like increasing tightness in his own schedule as well as that of the rest of the team. And of course there’s that age-old investor question he’d have to answer: “How would we make our money back?”

Combined with distribution costs, a series like The Remnants could take 5 million clicks just to break even, said Darryl LaRue, EVP of operations at Broadband Enterprises. At last check, the pilot (without any promotion) had clocked just 28,800 views on Vimeo, which doesn’t share ad revenue with members.

August said the main problem was that The Remnants didn’t score a major advertiser.  Both LaRue and Richard Frias, co-president of Digital Content Partners, said that the best way to sell to a single sponsor is to do so on paper, before shooting begins. Frias thought someone of August’s caliber should have been able to draw money from the start, while as LaRue pointed out, pitching beforehand allows creators to tailor content to an advertiser’s specific needs, making a sale easier. 

On the other hand, Corey Kronengold, senior director of marketing & communications at Tremor Media, said any initial product placement/sponsorship model can “get in the way of a long-term monetization strategy.”  If an episode is built around a specific product, it will have trouble being resyndicated elsewhere with new sponsors.  Frias is also a proponent of the long-term monetization plan, adding licensing of foreign rights and merchandising to the list of possible revenue streams.   But without knowing the details of the NBC deal, it’s hard to know what options are available.

Everyone we spoke to agreed with August on one thing: It seems nearly impossible that all the original talent could be brought back together. (The pilot was made during the writers’ strike, and everyone has since gone back to work.) While having well-known names as web series headliners can go a long way toward raising cash, there’s no model for locking in talent the way there is with TV pilots.  If the money doesn’t flow right away, the big names move on to new projects.  It’s a downfall we’re likely to see more of as two trends continue to rise in online video: the demand to lock in money well in advance of producing new episodes, and the interest of major TV and film talent in branching out to the web.

Given that the experts we surveyed more or less make a living working this sort of thing out, they tended to disagree with August’s assessment that there’s no business model in online video yet.  But unfortunately for fans, August does seem to be spot on with the “Unlikely” call.  Unless something pretty miraculous happens, it seems that — for the foreseeable future, anyway — the remnants of The Remnants are all we’re going to get.

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