Several years ago, the WGA membership voted to strike demanding agreements be struck for writers working on internet-based and new media shows to account for the seismic shift in the way we consume television.
Online content was previously filled with trailers of shows on television, deleted or additional/ alternative scenes, cast and crew interviews and a chance to view missed episodes of recent shows. It also cross advertised other shows.
Yet today, despite the proliferation of web series, the internet remains a source of shows largely produced on low or no budgets. YouTube clips are sporadically being monetized by sponsorship advertising. This slew of shows is largely of poor quality, often shot on cell phone or ipod video cameras. Without any benchmark of quality, literally anyone can call themselves a film maker.
The beauty of online content is that the number of views can easily be established to easily allow advertisers and audience to view choice material. You have accurate ratings after the show, not the estimates the broadcast networks rely on. There is even a Web Series Network.
The key issue to writing good web series is episode length. Audience attention span generally lasts one to three minutes; five to eight minutes if your material is riveting. Remember that it’s easier to click to another page than reach for your remote.
Despite it’s fractured nature, web series are gradually developing kudos. Shows like “Woke Up Dead“, ”Old Friends” and “Dr Horrible” produced by Joss Whedon (of Buffy fame) are making the cyber rounds. The supernatural thriller “Circle of Eight” was produced by Paramount Digital Entertainment and secured sponsorship from “Mountain Dew” as well as a prominent billboard in Hollywood.
Studios producing exclusively online cross platform material have sprung up. These include Electric Farm Entertainment and ABC-Disney TV’s Stage 9 Digital. Other studios have also indicated a tacit commitment to online projects, but are unsure of the best business model with which to proceed. To date none have proved profitable.
There are also awards analogous to the Emmys, dedicated to online content appropriately called “The Streamys” (or could that be “downloadys”)? Despite their infancy, web-based series can act as feeder shows to the cable and network broadcasters as development execs need to satisfy their unabated appetite for new material and secure new revenue streams.
In spite of the vast difference in quality of web-based shows (mainly skewed towards the unbearable), they act as calling cards for wannabe film makers. If you thought television audiences were temperamental, online ones are even more so.
Web-based shows heavily rely on social networking sites for targeted advertising. Most online shows have facebook and twitter links to engage, inform and update their audiences. They can be viewed online, on your ipod, blackberry or smart phone.
Despite this new commando, ultra-low budget film making creativity is unleashed since overheads can be negligible. It is similar to the advent of mass produced domestic video cameras. Time will inevitably demonstrate the maturity of the format into a fully fledged format.
Even though the majority of writers on web series are currently working with non-signatory companies, this will probably change. I envisage writers’ rooms, show runners and egos on web series in the future.