Is There a Future for Original Web Series?

30 Comments

When EQAL told us earlier this month that it was getting out of the original webisodic entertainment game to focus on creating digital experiences for established brands, we took note. These were, after all, the guys behind Lonelygirl15, arguably the most successful original web series ever. If they didn’t see much of a future in original web content, who does?

EQAL’s move followed ABC shuttering its new media studio, Stage 9, and 60Frames closing down, both of which were built around the idea of creating original episodic content for the web.

Even the companies that are still making original web series increasingly seem to have some kind of old media hook attached to their productions. Crackle brought onboard Ed Brubaker and Zoe Bell for Angel of Death, and told us that it’s looking to spend more on talent both behind and in front of the camera on its productions. Electric Farm Entertainment, which previously worked with Rosario Dawson on Gemini Division, is partnering with MTV for the upcoming vampire series Valemont, and cast Jon Heder as the lead in its zombie comedy Woke Up Dead.

With so many creators looking to old media for its new media inspiration, what does the future hold for straight-up original web series?

To find out more, head over to GigaOM Pro, where I expand on this topic with views from execs at Electric Farm Entertainment, Crackle, and MTV Networks. GigaOM Pro is our subscription research service where you can get access to deep dive articles and original research reports from top analysts on a wide variety of topics including the connected home, mobile technology, green IT and infrastructure.

30 Comments

Harvey E Harrison

My 94-year-old mother quoted Winston Churchill [she said] to me yesterday,affirming this as her view as well: “I’m an optimist. It’s stupid to be anything else.”
I think I’m coming around.
Chris: excellent piece as it was catalyst for the entire range of expressions about original online creative works.
Our site Burning Shorts has a single purpose for its existence: to turn optimism into presentation of the Great New Artists. Since it “looked” thrilling: LG15 was real/NOT real ambiguous, and early ’06 was stirring. That’s when we started.
Our larger project is digital media, beginning when Richard Garriott was in high school and Pop Owen would zoom literally into space, when I could hang with Nolan Bushnell … THAT’s when I started. More at the Catalyst site.
And, for we early ones [Margo, Al, are you out there?] 30 years ago, we surfed giant waves of optimism … and it turned out infinitely BIGGER than anyone could have dreamed and ENTIRELY differently from what anyone I saw predicted. As far as I know, Chris Crawford continues to toil … what a speaker!!!
My partner and I did the first original online series property for Disney Channels … the timing has to line up perfectly …
And it won’t, but it will line up in some other amazing wave to ride.
Hence, Burning Shorts and keeping Catalyst going since the former’s subscription list [NO fee] is largely Hollywood creative professionals, and the latter is to advance each Great Talent of this new shape of digital media …
What you are discussing here is my entire professional life commitment. Not much, but it’s enough for me to invest.
Respectfully.

Brian

I think people are missing the very narrow point in all of this. To use words like “untested” and “unproven” simply means that we have to bring in other concepts like “innovation” and creating something not as a means to an end, but because we have something to say — and on the internet there’s no one to stifle you.

People are so concerned with something being profitable or securing their “big break” that they’ve forgotten what it means to be an artist.

Who cares if people are paying you? Are people watching? Are you having some impact in their lives?

If you want to make money, go make money in business, it’s much, much easier. Make art for the sake of making the art. Spend all your own money. So long as you’re living as an artist, that’s all that matters.

Laurent

We have the same issue here in Singapore, we got seed funded by the Government Media Authorities but going for the next round or finding advertisers is incredibly difficult. You can have a good business plan, you can be alone in your market (here in S.E.Asia, there is close to nothing). So we have to do side projects, productions for TV or other things to survive. I don’t think viewers realize how much money you have to put as an independant studio to shoot broadcast quality stuff for the web. But to have investigate other possibilities, producing shows for brands or investing in product placement is the only viable option we have at this time.

nalts

Chris- I find it ironic that the rest of this article is behind a subscription service. So few original shows have found a fan base willing to pay subscription. But I think there will be loads of original web programing as ad dollars move online. In the meantime, the trick is a) creating for the medium, b) keep prices low, c) great writing/acting, d) faster cycle time (it’s killing me to wait for the next GUILD!

Chris Albrecht

Nalts, the irony is not lost on me. BUT, the nice thing is, a subscription gets you access to more than just articles from me. :)

Fraser

I think it is funny that whenever people measure the success of web series they forget to include Homestar Runner. The Brothers Chaps have created the most sustainable and web series on the web- it has been around longer than any other worth mentioning, and will probably be around a lot longer then any other series around right now.

There IS a future for original web series, if the costs are kept reasonable, and the content is of consistent quality.

DavidS

At least for the time being, I don’t see any way for these shows to make it unless they are sponsored by existing linear TV networks (or perhaps other offline media), are promoted on linear television (via on-air spots, bugs, crawls) and have access to the networks’ PR apparatus so that they can get in the press.

There may be the occasional viral hit here and there, but given just how much competition exists (even after the current shakeout is complete), the highly transaction-oriented nature of media consumption behavior on the web, the near-impossibility of cutting through the clutter without access to off-line promotion, most importantly a complete lack in interest among advertisers, I’d argue that the prospect of profitable online series production will remain elusive.

Finally, I’d add that many online series producers were just too far ahead of the curve. It was inevitable that any rational producer would turn to old media.

Chris Albrecht

Wow. Lots of great discussion here. Thanks, everyone!

Rich Mbariket

Hey Chris,

I am the Founder of http://www.webseriesmagazine.com. I can’t disagree. It is virtually impossible to earn a living creating original web series. I wrote an article about this titled ‘The Challenge of Monetizing your Web Series’ highlighting some not so cool facts about the web entertainment business and to let content producers know what they’re up against financially.

‘The Challenge of Monetizing your Web Series’ can be viewed for $2 at http://www.scribd.com/doc/16900037/The-Challenge-of-Monetizing-your-Web-Series

milowent

maybe cats on skateboards IS the best and most evolved state for online video.

is there a future for webseries? yeah, sure. independent productions not worried about profit will continue–and, once in a while, someone will succeed. oddball things like Fred will also come from time to time, and things like that can’t come from the bigshots or LA peeps.

Rachael

A group in Vancouver has been getting together to create a web series called for your security found at http://www.foryoursecurity.tv . It is a web series about two underground parking security guards, who put the hilarity into the mundane. It co features Colby Johannson who was in season one of Battlestar Galactica Dwight “Flat Top” Sanders .

Sean

Have to agree with hairofdog on this one; gotta watch for contradictions.

Of course there’s a future for original web series – it may just not be right now.

Also, new media isn’t looking to old media for “inspiration”; despite ABC’s studio closing and demise of 60Frames, it’s a good sign that old media heads are getting into the space.

hairofdog

Irony?

The people interested in this subject, are probably the people who can’t get their Series funded, because advertisers really didn’t step into this space (as they did with early oldTV) and because “subscription models” don’t work.

But, to read more and get the good stuff, we who can’t get funded are supposed to pay GigaOm-Pro for a subscription to read an article about how there isn’t any money here?

What?

I’d say that sums up the state-of-the-industry pretty well, even the blog-trades have their tin cans out hoping for some pittance to get them through another day.

Anthony DeLosa

A lot of people seem to be in a rush to proclaim this industry dead. That only serves the big studios. Think about it. They can wait it out and pick up the pieces.

Indie Self-funded

Here’s the problem, the established players that people look to for contact are only there because they planted their flag first. First is not best.

The running theme you hear is that the content should fit the medium. Well, these established players aren’t delivering that are they?

The indie self-funded shows that are getting squeezed out of the process are the very ones who could save it. They are the ones who using the medium to it’s potential but you’ll never find them. They are hidden on their own websites and obscure YouTube channels.

At the end of the day, if it’s good people will watch. Everyone loves a winner. Money goes to success.

michael_d

One example in 12 months?
Six examples in 12 months?

How much more can we lower the bar of expectations? If anyone remembers 3-years ago, there was the prospect of hundreds, if not thousands, of viable niche market Series that could be sustained by this emerging industry. The future was burning bright…media blogs such as this one appeared…we drank the KoolAid by the bucket load.

But, the few economic success models did have to “think cross-platform” or franchise-based, where there were revenue streams from anywhere other than online (How much was Prom Queen worth in Japan compared to US/Myspace?). Online ad revenue (other than pre-negotiated flat sponsorships) is worth Nada – the money has to come from somewhere else.

There is virtually no funding support to launch quality based independent Series (the Risk money that networks and studios are accustomed to doling out).

There is virtually no advertising support.

The medium is (unfortunately) not much more than a “calling card” for some Directors, Producers and maybe Talent to get an Agent and get a “real job” in old media.

I believe there remain two fundamental problems: (a) new producers don’t understand or appreciate the need for traditional distribution components; and, the new networks (Grouper/Crackle being key) didn’t facilitate cross-platform distribution and monetization. And, (b) Online Series are using old media tools in an interactive universe. Basically, the evolution of “interactive video” may be what resurrects the prospect for “new TV” — the tools aren’t there yet, but, they will be.

RIP. For now.

Thee Stranger

EQAL just copied what had already been done and turned it into Lonelygirl15. They’ve been milking that pilfered concept ever since.

There will always be a future for web shows, as long as they’re good and don’t retread what’s already been done.

Aanarav Sareen

I think many people have approached the concept of professional online video incorrectly. In the media business, you make money by charging a subscription fee and by offering advertisers a message delivery platform.

However, the subscription model has not worked online. And, advertisers are still not convinced that it’s the right way to go.

gstrompolos

As digital distribution becomes the norm, web series will be known simply as series.Boring concepts and bad distribution plans will continue to fail, but there will definitely be some gems. Most of the same rules still apply.

Colin Donald

Chris,

One objective measure of a Web show’s success is whether it has returned for a second or third season, with a sponsor (or other external funding partner) attached.

Some of the series that have done so in the last 12 months include:
* Back on Topps – 2 seasons
* Cell – 2
* Dorm Life – 2
* The Guild – 3
* Sofia’s Diary – 3
* Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy – 2

You could add to that ongoing series, such as Diggnation, which just had its 200th episode.

For a new creative sector that hardly existed two years ago and is facing a brutal recession, that seems like a reasonable success rate.

Our research at Futurescape.TV predicts that the next wave of successful Web shows will be productions targeting and actively involving online communities. It’s a strategy that’s being followed by DECA, Next New Networks and Revision3 and which we’ve called WeVision.

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