After examining some of the typical challenges for using the Internet to market a feature film or recurring television series, I now turn my attention to the newest kid on the screen media block – the web series. This is a rapidly evolving form of storytelling and raises its own unique issues when it comes to online marketing.
The Webisode Series
Definition: Any video content on the Internet with multiple episodes and a unifying storyline and cast of characters. It lives in the lawless “wild west” of screen media – for the moment.
- No gatekeepers. Yay, the freedom! But it also means no official advocates or automatic access to established marketing channels. You’re on your own kid.
- DIY everything. Do-it-yourself production, post production, distribution, marketing, etc, etc, etc. It’s a lot of work, potentially a lot of money, and burnout is very possible.
- Lower costs, lower quality. Anyone can put a video up on YouTube. And sometimes it seems that everyone does. It’s like America’s Funniest Home Videos on steroids, and a lot of it just isn’t very funny. Audience expectations are low.
- The web as a stepping stone. There are a lot of talented people out there using the web as a distribution channel for their work, which tends to be clever, innovative and good quality. Just check out The Guild or Riese as some examples. However, these products are sometimes created simply as calling cards, to build an online fan base which can be leveraged into a television career. We need to find a way for the best work to live and grow on the web and generate enough revenue online to support its creators. Otherwise web series risk being seen only as a means to an end, not providing enough value in and of themselves, which would be a great loss.
- The web series concept is evolving quickly. Webisodes used to all be very short and have low production values. Bigger players with more money are getting involved. There are calls for longer form, higher quality content, with some broadcasters even creating web content themselves. Internet powerhouses like YouTube are also starting to be content creators. It’s anyone’s guess as to where the web series will be when the dust settles. Will there be room for the DIY creator? Will audiences still seek them out?
- Make the most of being a pioneer. Right now it is still the “wild west” out there. It’s a time for experimentation, innovation and risk. Screen media creators who target the web should jump in with both feet and go for it as hard as they can, while they can. Things may change sooner than we would all like. Even the big players with the big money haven’t figured it out yet, so a cutting edge small player can still help set the direction and standards for the future of web series.
- DIY freedom & community. In keeping with the pioneer spirit, the DIY aspect of webisode series marketing means unlimited freedom and opportunity. While traditional advocates can occasionally be missed, there is a small community of web series producers out there who are willing to mentor and share the lessons they have learned. Just recently the Independent Production Fund in Canada published a free online PDF resource that includes 114 steps on “How to Build an Audience for Your Web Series: Market, Motivate and Mobilize.” This is definitely something all Internet producers should be reading.
- Closest to the web. Of all forms of screen media, the webisode series is, not surprisingly, the most plugged into the online world. Producers in this space are just as likely to come from a digital background as they are from a film or TV background. Having such tech savvy people driving a project or as part of the team is a huge resource and advantage more traditional media may not have. Leverage this talent as much as possible, especially when looking at the marketing aspects of your project. Keep all your online promotion search friendly and socially engaged as well as creatively innovative.
- Necessity is the mother of revenue invention. Because web series may not have broadcaster or distributor money attached, producers should and have to be more open to other forms of revenue and fundraising. Sponsorships, merchandise, ads, video sales and other more creative ideas are all possible and necessary for a web series to survive season to season (however short the season may be).
- Build superfans in existing online audiences. There is already an Internet community out there for any project you could possibly think of. I guarantee it. With some savvy research (keyword research helps) you can find these people. Connect with them. Offer them something exclusive, even if it’s only a sneak peak of your web series. People love to “discover” things and be the first to spread the word. A grassroots web series has a much better chance of developing this kind of buzz than a bigger TV or film property. If targeted properly this early audience development will pay off with the superfans every screen media project dreams of.
What Comes Next?
This three part series is only a snapshot of how things stand today across the screen media. Whether feature film or TV show or web series, everything is changing and changing in Internet time (which is very fast). The online marketing challenges and solutions I have talked about may be completely different six months from now. Without a doubt search and social media marketing will be a bigger and bigger part of the picture for the most successful screen media.
Next week I will be reporting on my experience at Canada’s Mobility and Social Media Conference where I am conducting a social media master class. Stay tuned…
Or Revisit Last Week: Film vs. TV vs. Web Video: Different Online Marketing Challenges – Part 2
Submit suggestions, questions or tips of your own via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or Twitter @veriatweet