With the likes of Harvey Weinstein turning his eye (and funds) online, there has been a noticeable change in the coverage of the web series. Industry websites have gone from 'Is this the destroyer of Broadcast TV?' to interviews with creators and tips for producing and promoting.
The future is online.
In the years since the rise of big name web series like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog following the 2007 writer's strike, when writers wanted to keep working on professional, quality productions while still supporting the unions, the medium has become legitimate platform for creators of original pieces to both showcase their talent and engage with their audience. It is this sense of community that sets the medium apart from the more traditional options.
The Ready and Willing Audience
This willingness of the audience to venture outside television shows that it is the quality of the programming that matters most to the audience and not the medium it is shown on. This is where accessibility becomes central to online programming. It needs to be as accessible, if not more so, than television and film. Web series largely rely on word of mouth. You're not going to stumble upon shows by flicking around. The most well known web series have big names associated with them while other smaller channels and filmmakers may struggle to get those views and exposure. But even if a channel doesn't reach a high volume of people, the instant feedback, a sense of immediacy and indeed intimacy that can achieved online can be just as important to the maintenance and future of the series. Like the premium cable channels, it can be more about the quality of the audience you are reaching than the quantity when it comes to the likelihood of survival.
Low Cost – High Value
Web series creators are dealing with a unique situation where audiences expect quality writing and acting worthy of 'real TV' but can also get away with lower production value because the audience can understand the lack of studio backing for independent channels and lack or resources especially when there are no big names attached. If the writing is good, and a real passion is there, it will find an audience.
Such is the case with this years winner of the Creative Emmy's Original Interactive Program, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. A popular online, but little known in the traditional media, web series about a modern take on Austen's Pride and Prejudice in the form of a video blog with views reaching into the millions for some episodes and a loyal and active fan following. And now, an Emmy. Which is more than some broadcast programs could even dream of. The series has since ended but the team behind it are now working on Emma Approved, their take on Austen's Emma using the same format, bringing with them the hoards of viewers ensuring an instant fan base for the new series.
If it's good enough for Kevin Spacey...
Some series attract viewers just by the name attached to it such as the case with House of Cards and Arrested Development, both exclusive to Netflix subscribers, for a fee. It is not uncommon to hear of people buying a subscription to Netflix for one show in particular, these exclusive new shows usually being the culprit. The most recent hit for the streaming service 'Orange is the New Black', generated more views in its first week online than both House of Cards and Arrested Development showing the growth in trust of the audience for the service. It is hard to imagine a large audience for a comparatively small production without the success of House of Cards preceding it.
The real beauty of the web series is the freedom of the creators in terms of censorship and the restrictions of a film company or broadcast channel. It is available to anyone who wants to experience it, regardless of time and location re-enforcing that sense of community between the creator and the audience. Formats that wouldn't work within the traditional half hour or hour episode length on television have found a home online. “How-to” instructional videos, vblogs and parodies are a common alternative to narrative storytelling in web series', giving the filmmaker a broader spectrum of formats to tell the story.
With the audience so willing to come to them, for writers and creators of web series' the online platform is a distinct part of their career path, perhaps even the destination and not just as a precursor to a 'proper' career in film or TV but a viable option in itself with real prospects. It doesn't have to be one of the other.
Raindance has an interesting event coming up:
In London, we have an event you will be interested in: Create and Market Your Webseries on Saturday March 15th from 10:00 - 5pm