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Rant: Rumors of the Death of Web Series Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Break A Leg creator Yuri Baranovsky posted a provoking piece on his blog on Wednesday called Let’s Save the Web Series. It’s a thoughtful look at the current state of web content, one that echoes some recent thoughts from our own Chris Albrecht, but it’s driven by the following sentiment: “It seems to me that we’ve finally dropped the act and now just think that the whole damn genre is failing.”

To be blunt, it sounds like Baranovsky doesn’t get out much. If he did, he’d be in touch with the new generation of web series creators, who are playing with their cameras, trying new things and making new deals. There is so much happening here that, frankly, we can’t cover it all. But heaven help us, we’re trying. Because we are watching the new stuff. And each new great show is another reason not to give up.

Baranovksy looks to us at NewTeeVee, as well as the fine folk at Tubefilter and Tilzy as part of the solution:

As journalists, it’s their job to find the little nuggets of gold — shows that perhaps no one is watching — and not only review them, but champion them… Tim Goodman of the SF Chronicle was a huge supporter of Arrested Development and one of the reasons that helped them continue production. Yes, it’s the SF Chronicle — but I know the guys at Tilzy, Tubefilter and NewTeeVee — all are extremely talented journalists and I think if they tried hard, they could really help propel shows forward.

Championship happens, it’s just that there are so many shows to champion that the praise gets spread thin. The reason why we at NewTeeVee don’t really push shows to “the mass public” is that we’re an industry publication, not a major market newspaper. Even so, shows and creators we’ve written about have found distribution, achieved sponsorships and won awards — and I’ve received emails directly attributing our coverage for those developments. Plus, we don’t give low-quality no-budget series a pat on the head and a pass, instead talking more honestly about the lesser achievers in the hopes that the medium may grow and evolve.

Baranovsky’s complaint seems more to be that he hasn’t HEARD of any new and exciting web series, not that they don’t exist. Yuri, you want 10 quality indie shows, made in the last year, to watch? Here you go: Bumps in the Night, Grass Roots, Coma, Period, Ignite, In the Moment, Love Pop Trash, My Roommate the Cylon, Project Rant, Real Life With Married People, Sandwich of Terror, Scotty Got an Office Job, Speedie Date, The Book of Jer3miah, Zerks’ Log… Oh, I guess that’s more than 10. Whoops.

To be honest, a lot of the series mentioned above will not find a huge audience. That’s because more niche shows have popped up that appeal to specific communities — In the Moment is targeted towards gay audiences, for example, while The Book of Jer3miah was made for Mormons, by Mormons. And that’s one of the brilliant things about the current state of the medium — under-served audiences are finally getting content, and reasonably well-made content, that appeals to them. Added bonus: The hardcore web series community gets to learn more about a subculture that maybe it wouldn’t have otherwise. We don’t feel like this is a bad thing.

And in regards to his hope that new media might become a “farm league” for old media, it’s already happening. Dan Harmon created an NBC sitcom, College Humor got another MTV series, Bo Burnham got scooped up by Judd Apatow…the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that there are also a lot of creators working in new media, like the cited Big Fantastic, who seem pretty damn happy to be creating original web content. For creators excited not by the idea of getting a call from Steven Spielberg, but by being able to tell their own stories on their own terms, the idea of web content being a farm league is even a little insulting.

This would all be much easier if there was a more coherent central web series ratings system. But for the moment much of the potential viewing data remains private and disaggregated, which is a shame as it keeps us from having a community-wide awareness of what everyone really is watching, not just talking about.

Because it honestly sounds like Baranovsky’s fallen into the trap that I’ve heard no shortage of web professionals complain about recently: Many of those working in the space simply aren’t watching a lot of web content anymore, because they’re too busy making it. Thus, they’re not discovering anything new, and forgetting how fast-evolving and frankly awesome this medium can be.

13 Responses to “Rant: Rumors of the Death of Web Series Have Been Greatly Exaggerated”

  1. Heya—-

    I think its a valid point that the internet has allowed for a variety of niche (seems to be the word for this debate) shows—I think the point being made by Baranovsky is that a show can be both niche and well…good. For example, Project Runway would appear to interest only Fashion Designers and people into it, but actually attract so many people because of the quality of the production. Whereas, Project Rant, which you used as your example of a quality niche show—lost my interest about 30 seconds in at the unoriginality of its production value, the uninteresting nature of its host, and its irrelevance to my life …and believe me, I like a good rant.

    Might I suggest using a different example of the many you noted? Because I disagreed mostly based on that link.

  2. I really wish that NewTeeVee would focus more on the business side of web-series. More how-to articles. Going and interviewing those doing web-series and sharing what they’ve learned. What mistakes they have made, what they’ve learned from them, and what they’re doing not to repeat them. How they can do something that looks expensive on the cheap. What they wish they had known before starting out. What advice they’d give to those thinking of starting their own web-series. How they have been able to get corporate sponsors. I would really enjoy reading such articles. :-)

  3. Are these hard times for web series creators? Yes. Of course. We’re not alone. But what makes us different from everyone else that’s fallen on hard times is our potential to be part of something that given time seems inevitable to succeed.

    I tend not listen to skepticism. Had I listened I would not be working on “Anyone But Me”. Our series does not cost $200 to produce. Far from it. But our intention for “Anyone But Me” has always been to take the web series in a direction of higher quality. Of course the cost makes survival a little harder. But not impossible.

    We’ve completed our first season. And are now the most watched scripted show on two different major video content sites. And when we launch our second season we will no doubt be greeted by the same skepticism we endured the first season. But the great thing is we’ll be a little closer to the inevitability of success.

    Hang in there everyone.
    Tina Cesa Ward

  4. Great rant, thank you Liz. I completely agree that media going niche is a good thing. As you said, this allows unrecognized groups to finally be recognized with content developed exclusively for them. From a brand standpoint, supporting niche web content can be a very important part of any campaign mix. Remember the 80/20 rule, right? Finding the property that is the best fit for the brand and the right platform to begin building a relationship with the consumer are critical services that need to be offered by all future new media departments.

    This just means that as the world moves from a large mass of different cultures to niche communities with common passions, we all just need to work smarter. Content Creators need to work harder finding brands that are TRULY the right fit for their particular series (not just someone with a checkbook). And Brands need to work harder to find these niche audiences and understand their consumer’s wants, needs and passions at a much deeper level.

  5. Totally agree, Liz, especially with the part about Sandwich of Terror being a good show… ;)

    Seriously though, what does this tell us? There are a lot of great shows, out of a huge amount of shows. We’re going to be relying a lot more on sites that review (like this one) and select content. Otherwise we’ll spend our nights wandering the wastes of Youtube, being mildly amused by cats and crotch hits.

    Though according to Yuri, you guys aren’t reviewing shows up to his standards. So… I don’t know how to please him. Maybe he should lower his standards?

    Most of what’s on TV is crap. What’s the difference?

  6. Liz, couldn’t agree more. Like I said in my response to Yuri’s post today:

    “Most of the early adopters of any medium won’t ever make a buck. 99% of them will probably give up or fail. But a few (mostly those that mix perseverance with hard work, talent, and a little bit of luck) will succeed. They are the ones who will inherit the future of television.”

    You guys got me all riled up. I’m going to have to write something now.

  7. There is definitely still some life in web series, at least from this writer’s vantage point. My company, Electric Farm Entertainment, currently has two multi-platform web series in post-production. The first show, WOKE UP DEAD, will be digitally distributed domestically by Crackle, internationally by Sony. The second show, VALEMONT will be digitally distributed domestically by MTV, internationally by Content. Both shows premiere this Fall and will be accompanied by interactive websites, games, ARGs, etc. And we have several more projects in development using this same approach. Old Media working cooperatively with New Media has proven to be a successful formula for our company. Hopefully, other producers can emulate our model — or create their own! — because I truly believe that web series are still in their “nickelodeon” stage of development, and evolution of the medium will only come through the diverse efforts of many pioneers.