The Confession, which was produced by Digital Broadcasting Group (DBG) and starred Kiefer Sutherland, was an ambitious project for an original web series: Deficit-financed and launched exclusively on Hulu, DBG bet that with a big name star and a well-written script, a series could make money even without running on TV first. With plenty of money left to be made, it looks like that bet has already paid off.
The good news for fans of The Confession — and for fans of web video in general — is that the project is already profitable. DBG CEO Chris Young told us in a phone interview that Hulu viewership exceeded its expectations. According to him, the average episode had a 95 percent completion rate, meaning viewers were watching all the way up to the credits — and the biggest complaint from the series was that episodes were too short, at six to eight minutes each.
But with its exclusive run on Hulu nearly over, the series still has plenty of monetization opportunities left: DBG plans to extend availability for the series to a much wider group of sites that are part of its monetization network, expanding the opportunity for viewership and ad dollars. The Confession will launch on Canadian video portal CTV.ca at the end of June, and the company is currently in discussions for distribution on a number of other international destination sites.
The company also plans to release a full-length DVD of the series, and is considering licensing it to subscription services like Netflix (s NFLX) or making it available through VOD services like iTunes. (s AAPL) In terms of DBG’s ability to monetize The Confession, Young said DBG was probably in the second of nine innings.
The fact that The Confession is profitable is good news for web-original series, as it shows that there’s money to be made online — if you have the right star or the right story. According to Young, DBG set out to prove that “with A-level talent, an A-level script and A-level production values,” the company could turn a profit online. And it did so without a big sponsor attached to the project at launch. In fact, the whole thing was deficit-financed in the hope that it would be able to make back whatever money it spent on production. That means it was a bit of a leap of faith for DBG, which specializes in creating branded content for big advertisers like the Sunglass Hut-sponsored series Full Time Fabulous.
But the success of The Confession means that DBG will definitely produce more projects like it in the future, according to Young. It’s also indicative of a market that might finally be ready for more original content, both for consumers and for advertisers.