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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.

5 Responses to “Is There Life Left in The Remnants?”

  1. I agree with gstrompolos that there are dangers in creating content for the web that competes directly with old TV. IMHO, a concept has the greatest likelihood for monetization is it is created for a demographic that is too niche to be served by broadcast, yet associated with a particular set of potential advertisers. The content has to be created at a bare-bones but pro level. Then an interactive community has to be built around the content. Remnants is an amazing series — way better than what we do at DadLabs, but tougher to monetize on the web.

    DadLabs followed the strategy above, and we now have a sponsor through June — Baby Bjorn. It’s enough to pay the rent on our crappy studio and salary a full time staff of 7. As pointed out above, we are limited by our “short term” strategy of complete brand/product integration — our over 350 episodes would be very difficult to repackage and sell to another sponsor, but the lights are on for another 5 months. Which is pretty good in this “industry”and in this environment.

    What happens after June? Well, we’ve got a book coming out. And a lots of doors to knock on.

  2. I personally think the main problem with most web series, including the Remnants, is they fail to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the medium — They all attempt to emulate the TV experience and bring nothing new to the table. The Remnants is no different… albeit John August is a fine writer and the pilot was entertaining, with a concept that had potential if it were to be aired on broadcast TV, but in the world of web tv, I didn’t find anything especially unique about it — except that it was well written, with decent actors, so what? — so since we set the bar pretty low for a web series, this makes it extraordinary, I assume…

    The Remnants hasn’t gotten sponsored because it doesn’t bring anything to the table — first, it’s geared toward a demographic(mid/late 20’s and up) that is not completely tuned into watching tv over the internet — neither does it showcase anything that could possibly bring that demographic into the fold. Frankly, the reason these Hollywood types haven’t had success with this yet, in terms of monetizing is they’re using a model that’s over 50 years old, thinking they’ve created something new, when it’s as stale as day old bread. Most of the series I’ve seen, seem to be looking for teenagers and early 20 somethings, I can’t say that web series creators have done a great job at capturing the imaginations of this demographic, but at least this is a group that can’t remember not having a computer — that can’t remember only having 3 channels of TV — I suspect it’s easier for them to take the leap – which is why all the sponsors want to jump on that bandwagon… hoping that it bears fruit.

    All in all, for the invested the Remnants is good content — but really has most likely reached it’s peak and has no where else to go —

  3. Informative post. This truly is an example great content. However, there is a wealth of great content online and display advertising dollars are not infinite. Beyond the content itself, when it comes to up-front sponsorships and product integration, the producers who win those dollars will be the ones with the best distribution plan, coupled with a meaningful integration strategy which delivers real, measurable value for the brand. You need to think of your distribution as part of the storytelling process, and you need to make your brand a hero. Both of these key elements were largely missing from many web projects in 2007/2008.