Much is being made of The Confession, an original web series starring Kiefer Sutherland that just concluded on Hulu after premiering in March. The hype isn't limited to the show itself, instead centering on reports that it has already turned a profit through Hulu's free ad-driven model. There are plenty of additional revenue streams available for the show, and so the question on everyone's mind is: does this mean original web series are a viable business model now? Because back when Zack Lieberman and I won the Webby for The West Side, that was not the case. Every studio we met with felt that the online revenue streams were not mature enough to support a decently-budgeted web series, with or without recognizable stars. Is The Confession a "watershed moment?"
Produced by Digital Broadcasting Group without a major sponsor attached (one of the drawbacks to adult-themed, violent content, as Zack and I spent 40+ meetings discovering, is it's not so easy to brand it).
It's funny to see a web series in 2011 treated like it's 2007 -- original dramatic webisodes, imagine that! -- but hey, if the success of The Confession means financiers will be more likely to back original web content, I'm all for it. Over the past few years there has been a decided lack of compelling drama online, with the web video landscape dominated by home videos, sophomoric animal tricks, a few action and thriller series, and finally comedy (much of which is very good, in my opinion). Scripted drama, however, has been the exception rather than the rule.
As DIGIDAY points out, however, there are no public viewership statistics available, so the fact that the series is "already profitable" does little to provide an idea of how many total views we're talking (an issue I've mentioned in the past). Regardless of whether the production company and Hulu ever share the viewership numbers, however, here's to hoping the very success of The Confession will open some doors.
Link: The Confession
It also feels that this will make it even harder for unknown directors without budget to breakthrough with smaller projects. When you watch the behind the scene, it is quite astonishing to see the size of the crew and the equipment they had. Image quality: check. Pro actors: check. Strong script: ?. I wouldn't say so. Nothing surprised me, besides seeing Sutherland.
It feels to me you and Zack came out with The West Side at the best time possible to launch your careers. Do you think if you were launching it today things would be different? (in either way)
May 27, 2011 at 4:40PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
There is some very good dramatic series on the web, but without a large ad campaign or a sponsor site like Hulu promoting it, getting the word out is tough.
A series I worked on, "The Gap", got distribution locally through Comcast, but no promotion. It's available online at www.stick-pictures.com and a couple other sites, (youtube.com, blip.tv, etc) but it's been a trick getting the word out.
I'm guessing that having Sutherland attached to your show is a huge plus as it's probably been written up in Variety and talked about elsewhere. (read: everywhere!)
I still believe that if you've got the quality, you'll get the audience....eventually.
May 27, 2011 at 9:00PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
"I still believe that if you’ve got the quality, you’ll get the audience….eventually."
A great example of this is Spanish web series Malviviendo (http://www.malviviendo.com). These kids started the show within their friends, using clever editing and after effects tricks to get their story out. Each episode gets better, both in storytelling (which is key here), and in quality. They're well into their second season (after a long break), and got sponsors all over Spain, even with their adult themes (the show is a comedy about four good-for-nothing street boys - drugs, sex, violence, etc.).
In the end, story is king.
May 28, 2011 at 5:08AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Hi, I was going to comment about Malviviendo but Dave came first. They are a great example of profitable web-series. They said their first chapter cost only €40 and now they have sponsors even internationally.
I think story is king, but quality is queen. There are another good spanish comedy web series, and there are even some about the same themes that Malviviendo (drugs, sex, violence, crimes) but only Malviviendo have that look, that edit and those well made effects that keeps you looking at it. Javier Lería is a kind of VFX Supervisor in Malviviendo and I think that it is the story created by David Sainz, plus Javi Lerías work that made this serie so good.
May 28, 2011 at 12:19PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Speaking of Spanish web series, I just made one with a friend of mine in rural Spain: www.pueblotheseries.com. We made it for $0 without any intention to earn money from it, but I just thought I'd mention it here since a few of you mentioned Malviviendo and it's one of the only other online shows I've come across that's produced in Spain.
June 1, 2011 at 5:26AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
I'm very impressed it's made a profit on Huluu since, as a Canuck I can't watch anything on Hulu.
I would guess that it's the same for anywhere outside the US.
I find it strange that I don't hear very good things about the writing in any of the high budget WEb series. My friends aren't impressed with Mortal Kombat and I really hope the dragon age webseries is better then Dragon Age 2 the game.
I wonder if the writers they have just aren't used the webisode format or 10 minutes is too short a time tell a further a season plot and tell a story.
May 30, 2011 at 11:20AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
As was mentioned already. This can't be watched outside of the U.S. while I understand that there are certain legal hurdles to overcome it just seems somewhat ironic that the best feature of the internet, the ability to connect with Millions of people world wide, is rendered completely useless. Anyhope of gaining an international fan following and exposure is lost. The internet is king over all other forms of media distribution and while I do hope that the popularity of web based productions continues to grow I hope that this restricted model is not the standard.
Looking forward to seeing an episode at some point.
May 30, 2011 at 1:18PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
This could be a great thing for online dramas. I'm hoping that it will introduce more people to the fact that there is great content online, a lot of it completely independent. Look at shows like Anyone But Me, Compulsions, CELL:The Web Series (full disclosure: my own), Mind's Eye, Tyranny, Downsized... the list goes on and on. Every new eye looking on the web for their drama is another potential view for indie creators. Now if we can just get the big stars to point us out. The space is different now. We're all in it together. When one is successful, we can all be successful. It's not exclusionary so let's root everyone on and together we'll all make a splash
June 2, 2011 at 3:30PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM
Yes, this is what the future of entertainment will be. Big screens are getting less and less audience (Google it) no matter what the box office $ are. I've been saying this for 20 years where the industry will be ; Small Screens!
If you're good, you don't need 500 crew members and million bucks to compete even with KS and his movie(s). The internet is a level field and the key to learn is HOW to market your product without sponsors and big bucks. If you have something really good, the audience will 'find' it with a little well placed (free) promo.
I could have shot this webseries with four $300 vidcam and the audience would not be able to tell the difference. They don;t care about DOF and all those gizmos and tricks every shooter is in love with. They care about the story and presentation. I've seen movies shot on $100 cams that blow your mind. There are many talented people out there, but they have no clue how to get people to see it.
So, there are no more excuses, jump in and start your own 'network'. Find your 'market' first and shoot for them only. The quicker you get away from the 'old' business model the faster you'll become a sucess :)
You really, really need to 'get' the marketing first before frame-one. Spend a year or so researching and understand how you can do this. If you don;t do it, you will never get anywhere. There are no easy short cuts and as a shooter/director/or whatever, YOU have to understand what you need to do first.
June 2, 2011 at 7:38PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM