Have Web Series Finally Grown Up?


Well, they’ve certainly proliferated. And they’ve graduated from hilarious snippets of “Funniest Home Videos” and novices learning how to use their camera phones. Budgets are rising and production values are slicker.

Listen up, Nielson Ratings. There’s a new player in town, Mashable which measures the most watched shows online. The top rating show had more than twice the viewers of “American Idol” depending when you read this blog. Those sorts of figures make advertisers wet them selves with excitement. It also looks that comedy is the most watched genre. Gag Films can gloat that their online comedy called “The Annoying Orange” posting over 49 million hits. The audience has voted.

The highest rating web shows such as “Charlie The Unicorn” tend to be child/ family friendly. Charlie scored over 100 million hits on YouTube. If you think that’s impressive, “Fred Figglehorn” has scored over 460 million hits on YouTube, spawned a movie and a Christmas album.

The Guild, a web series centering on socially-challenged online video game players is also considered successful. After more than 10 million views, three seasons, DVDs being FedExed around the globe and two full time staff, the show has earned a sponsorship deal from “Sprint” and a distribution deal from “Microsoft”. No mean feat.

Due to their “independent” nature, many web series don’t follow the strict formatting protocol of serialized TV. “The Guild” is a notable exception. This allows producers the freedom tailor formats via skits, sketches, virals and one-offs films.

Online producers are increasingly ingenious in the techniques they use to build and maintain audience loyalty. They use RSS feeds, social media alerts and cross-show advertising to raise awareness. Remember many years ago when low budget films such as “The Blair Witch Project” were marketed by email and a website to make it a phenomenal hit in terms of cost to profit ratio. In today’s world, tweets are the new word of mouth.

Audiences demand interactivity and inclusion. They want to be part of the film making experience and view out takes, “making of” videos, bios and various tidbits. Web series are increasingly branding themselves to cultivate a following.

In view of the computer game geek traditionally being male, more males are consistently watching more Web TV than their female counterparts.

Due to the fragmented nature of Web TV audiences, it’s still difficult to sell such shows to advertisers. Given the more active viewing experience, the lower viewing numbers are replaced with more involved audiences. This is an improvement from viral videos which score millions of untargeted views, but less audience attention. This is a key issue for Web TV. There is no measure of churn and loyalty. Despite the staggering number of hits on some shows, there is little reliable data on whether they are new viewers or returning ones.

Unlike traditional TV, Web TV is not hampered by scheduling conflicts and time slots. Viewers can watch they want, when they want, however many times they want and are demanding more quality content.

Much like a film maker made a short film, Web TV series may serve as a calling card for budding film makers to secure a development deal with a network or studio. Although the online divisions of many agencies have folded, they are destined to make a return.

Google TV is already making deals with Android apps and will be huge. Convergence between TV and PC is coming. The smart TV platform by google.tv will connect to the internet making viewing web series in virtual living rooms the new social experience.

In May, blip.tv landed $10 million startup money to monetize it’s content. Blip.tv boasts 90 million streams per month and monetizes 85% of them with blue chip marketers GM, General Mills, and AT&T.

Current web series monetization levels are where online advertising was a decade ago. Potential profits from online videos are derived from advertising, selling or licensing content to content aggregators, syndication to affiliate online networks and merchandising.

Despite the mega collapse of the online world after the dot.com bust, new business models are feverishly being tested from the rubble. Although most web series are still promotional tools, the amount of activity suggests that it’s only a matter of time before they become commercially viable.

Google is confident YouTube will turn a profit in 2010. It is “monetizing more than a billion video views every week”.

Crackle.com which targets the 18-34 year old demographic has enjoyed an increase in unique views of over 50% and a 250% increase in streaming activity.

Ustream, which averages 70 million hits a month, has also bagged $90 million in venture capital. The cash is out there.

Last year online advertising surpassed conventional advertising in the UK and the USA. The truth is that times are a-changing at breakneck speed. Despite the rocky road ahead, the trend is definitely upwards. Hold onto to your keyboards!

Furthermore, webisodes are the feeding ground where producers swoop to develop concepts into TV series for either cable or terrestrial.

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