Blip.tv has spent the last six years building a distribution network for independent web series creators and enabling them to share their videos across a number of different syndication partners. But now the New York-based startup wants to become the place to go to find new and interesting web series. So Blip.tv launched a new consumer-facing website Tuesday with the intent of aggregating all the best web series content into one convenient portal.
The new design features a revamped home page, as well as new category, search and show pages all designed to better show off the wide variety of independent web series content that is available through the site. With the goal of highlighting its shows, each featured web series has a thumbnail image on the front page, alongside a 16×9 screenshot of a featured video. Shows that make it to the front page are editorially picked by the startup’s programming team.
But there’s more than just the front page — individual show pages allow video producers to customize the experience by adding their own series art, as well as highlighting episodes that they think viewers should catch up on. For scripted shows, that will probably mean the first episode of the series and the most recent episode, so that viewers can start a series from the beginning if they’re not familiar with the show, or they can tune into the most recent episode if they’re already fans.
Finally, Blip.tv has revamped category and search pages. Category pages bring up a whole-page ‘theater’ approach to displaying videos, and launching a video brings up a lean-back type playlist of relevant content from that category. And an improved search experience means that viewers will be able to find the shows they want to watch even faster.
Blip.tv began work on the redesign after talking with a number of web series creators and viewers and finding that one thing holding back the independent web video world was that many found it too chaotic. While broadcast shows have Hulu as an aggregation point for browsing and watching TV content, there’s no comparable destination site for the independent web video creators. As a result, the redesign could change the way web series creators think about Blip.tv, not just as a platform for shipping their shows out to other sites — like YouTube (s GOOG) — but as a destination in and of itself.
“A lot of people love the idea of finding great web series, but they didn’t know where to go,” Blip.tv CEO Mike Hudack told us in a phone interview. Later, he said: “There has been no place to showcase original web series. So we think this is a really important step in moving industry forward.”
That said, not everyone is getting the new treatment: Of the 50,000 producers that use Blip.tv for distribution, only about 1,800 shows will actually be featured as part of the new destination site. Explaining why, Hudack said that Blip.tv wants the new site to highlight the best of what it has to offer, and compared its philosophy of series selection as the difference between the Apple (s AAPL) App Store, which requires approval to become a part of the ecosystem, and the Android Marketplace, where anyone can publish an application.
So what determines which shows become a part of the new Blip.tv? Hudack said the company is not trying to make judgments about what’s going to be popular, but instead looks at how much work creators have put into their series, makes sure that they have a certain quality of production value and also that shows are regularly producing new content. Shows that aren’t part of the new design will still be supported with legacy show pages. And Hudack said the hope is that creators who aren’t part of the launch will be able to work with the programming team to improve their shows and be added later to the revamped site.
With the redesign, Blip.tv has expanded its content team, which is now eight employees and growing. Headed up by Senior Director of Network Programming Eric Mortenson, that team is tasked with identifying promising web series and shepherding them through the process of updating their show pages to match the new format. It is also splitting up product development into two teams: one to work on the consumer-facing video site, and another to continue improving the producer dashboard and backend technology.
The redesign also sort of brings Blip.tv back around full circle: The site launched back in 2005 as a place for web series creators to upload and highlight their shows. But the company soon realized that what creators really needed was a way to build an audience across the web, so it built a distribution network that enables web series creators to send their shows out to other syndication sites. Later, it built a sales force to help monetize their shows.
Blip.tv has a 50-50 ad revenue split with creators that use the platform, and some are making serious cash through distributing and selling ads with Blip.tv. Hudack said some creators made more than half a million dollars on Blip.tv last year, and it expects to have some making more than a million this year. The site redesign will hopefully help accelerate viewership and monetization, by creating a clean, well-lit place for web series to be discovered and viewed.
That will also hopefully create new advertising opportunities for Blip.tv’s sales force. T-Mobile USA is the launch sponsor of the new site, and the company said that there’s an opportunity for whole-site takeovers, individual channel sponsorships, as well as regular display ad opportunities as part of the redesign.
While the market is still extremely fragmented, Blip.tv’s plans to create a destination site for independent web video series could come up against some serious competition soon. YouTube has created an entire category page for web originals, and is investing heavily in independent producers with its YouTube Next program and Creator Institute. And there are reports that YouTube’s next step will be to create channels of content which could highlight independent web series. But YouTube and Blip.tv aren’t alone in courting independent producers: Hulu is increasing the amount of made-for-the-web content it distributes, and Vimeo and Dailymotion are also working hard to sign up independents.
For Blip.tv, the competitive advantage may just be that it serves up only independent web series. While other sites host a mix of professional, semi-pro and even UGC content, with its redesign Blip.tv is telling the world that it is solely focused on bringing out only the best video content made strictly for the web.