When it comes to being a writer or actor, we currently live in interesting times—and by “interesting” I’m using the “Chinese curse” definition of the word.
Computers and the Internet have not only opened up a new distribution method for people to see their work and give them money for it, but also a way for people to view their work and keep from giving them money for it. The main point of contention during the Writers Guild Strike of 2007-2008 and the threatened Screen Actors Guild Strike of 2008 was over residuals from “new media,” and how much a production studio would pay them for re-broadcasts of the material over time beyond its initial broadcast.
To briefly summarize, rather than use the old mathematical formula created in the 1980s when home video became a concern or wait a few years to see exactly how profitable distribution on “new media” is and create a new formula, the WGA wanted the producers’ guild (the AMPTP) to create a new formula right now which would potentially address any and all concerns about how writers would get paid for work that has the potential to be seen and consumed in innumerable ways that aren’t easily tabulated thanks to things like click rates and online piracy.
Because that formula hasn’t been perfected yet and online piracy is still a problem, anyone who wants to start releasing their content on the ‘net is trying to figure out who their loyal paying audience (aka their True Fans) is and how to best get a hold of that person’s entertainment dollar.
About a month ago, Indie Wire.com blogger Cameron Carlson went to the “Producing Web Entertainment” seminar at the American Cinematheque in California, and came away with eight things he learned about how to best reach an Internet-based audience. However, the people on that panel and the series they were talking about were people I’d never heard of personally, which made me wonder: Exactly who are these guys and why would I want to believe their words on this topic?
After doing lots of clicking and a bit of research, I present to you my own list of five things I think these particular content creators are doing correctly and incorrectly when it comes to reaching out to a ‘net-savvy audience:
1. The folks at Babelgum.com allow for embedding, viewing fullscreen, and sharing via social networks on their video content hosting site and that’s great. However, they don’t have multiple options for embedding a la YouTube, and that’s bad. If I want to share your video with my friends on my blog, then I want to show you off in the best manner possible and a small inset ain’t gonna cut it. This kids’ re-enactment of the Bravo reality show “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” is pretty funny, but if the sample I’m showing you presents poorly, you’re not going to want to go to the source to see more, are you?
Overall grade: C+
2. I was fully prepared to give the gang at FearNet.com an awesome grade because they have an interesting selection of free R-rated movies that only require an age-checker to view, the female eye-candy host of their “Jobs of the Damned” original series seems pretty genre-savvy, and they already know their audience is going to be a bunch of horror buffs, so they don’t condescend when they conduct interviews, as seen above.
However, when I pasted the embed code for the video above into the text side of my WordPress Dashboard, a whole lot of clunky code came along with it, including a link to their ad network. Ugh.
Overall grade: B-
3. Sometimes, size really does matter and in this case, the lack of an adjustable embed code means that showing you this episode of “Easy to Assemble” is going to break some blogger templates and even some LiveJournal pages, so good luck sharing it with your friends. By far, this is the slickest of the productions we’ve seen in this review, but there’s just one major problem I have: Why does the About page only contain a press release for the second season?
Part of what turns a casual viewer into a True Fan these days is the level of access to the creators of that content and the amount of information those creators are willing to provide. If you’re not even willing to have a FAQ section available on your site to explain exactly why actual Hollywood stars like Illeana Douglas, Justine Bateman and Ed Begely, Jr. are schilling for IKEA in a quirky web series, then I’m not going to want to watch it, no matter how many Streamys it has won.
Overall grade: C
4. See what I mean about breaking templates? I really, really like “Imaginary Bitches,” even if I’m not their target demographic of women who do “lunch with the girls” and make plans to go shopping. The conceit of main character Eden (played by Eden Riegel, best-known as Bianca from “All My Children”) creating bitchy imaginary friends because her real-life friends are all in relationships and have abandoned her is so freaking interesting to me because it’s an unusual take on a very common situation.
The embed issue aside, the other problem I have with IB is the lack of consistency on the Cast page. Props go to male cast members Michael Traynor and Billy Aaron Brown for following Eden’s example and deciding to relish in the playful spirit of Internet TV and having such playful bios for their cast pages.
With the exception of Brooke Nevin, the rest of the female cast didn’t follow suit at all, which makes them all look like, well, bitches.
Overall grade: B-
5. And as long as I’m at it, I’m also gonna give some props to Strike TV, because just in the same way that Joss Whedon was bored, wanted something to do during the Writers’ Strike, and came up with “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog,” every single series in this long list was created because some writer had an idea, was able to go out and realize it, and someone gave it a home.
I am now about to take those props away because not only is the management team nothing but guys, but it doesn’t seem like any of the blogs or any of the other series have been updated since 2009. If a bunch of Canadians living on an island off the coast of Washington state can produce at least one video a week for over six years while trying to maintain a day job or school, you’d think a bunch of Hollywood screenwriters could do the same, yes?
Overall grade: F
Ultimately, as Carlson concluded, just as the plate engravers looked askance at Johannes Gutenberg or silent film stars cursed Al Jolson’s name under their breaths, the successes or failures of the Hollywood players in this article are probably being well-scrutinized by the bean counters at the AMPTP. I don’t agree, however, that it’s these particular creators who will be the “shovel sellers.”
In fact, I’m going to make a bold prediction right now and say that it’s going to be some unknown creator who’s going to come up with a product, video format, level of popularity and transparency, and price security that will propel Internet-original entertainment beyond the comparatively niche circle it currently enjoys.