The Year Of Episodic Web Content?

“2012 is the year of Web-based, episodic video content.” 

That’s been the buzz for who knows how long now.  We’ve all heard it, and for the most part, we’ve all pretty much accepted it as true.  But are we even really sure we know what that means?

People love to talk in generalities, because it’s safe.  But generalities don’t allow us to plan, or to analyze data in a meaningful way.  So before would-be script writers start to head out to Starbucks with their laptops, and before VCs start opening up their checkbooks to the next creative genius with a great idea for a show, we should try a come to a more detailed understanding of what the future potentially holds in terms of content. 

So let me set the playing field right off the bat.  Personally, when I talk about Web-based, episodic video content, I’m talking about the Web as we watch it on a desktop or mobile device -- not online video streamed to the living room TV set.  Yes, technically when Netflix or Hulu stream content onto our television sets, it’s Web-based content, in that it originates from a server.  But as far as the viewing public is concerned, it’s TV.  Where the shows come from only matters as far as show and channel availability, price and image clarity are concerned -- outside of that, when the typical American family sits on their couch to watch their favorite shows on the large black console mounted to the living room wall, they’re watching TV.  So while it’s all very exciting that Netflix has gotten into original content production, and released the entire season of its new series “Lillyhammer” all at once, I’m not including this achievement as part of my discussion of online episodic content. 

 

But to understand the root of the original prediction, and whether or not it’s viable, the definition of “Web-based episodic video content” needs to be broken down even further.  A cooking show is episodic, in that it has individual episodes, each with a unique topic.  A talk show is episodic, as is a variety show. And these work online.  They take very little emotional investment on the part of the viewer, who doesn’t need to get to know characters, or understand storylines.  They can be consumed in shorter segments, and don’t need to be watched in any specific order to be enjoyed.

 

Most importantly, though, they don’t need to be discussed.  Shared, maybe, but not discussed.  An engaging would-be chef creates a two-minute video showing you how to make double chocolate cookies. The cookies look good, seem easy to make, and it’s something you think others might be interested in trying, so you click the share button and post the video on your blog or favorite social network.  Easy enough.  The investment on both sides is minimal -- the producer can make the videos with relatively little time and money, and the viewer can enjoy them with relatively little time and energy.  It’s a narrow gap, so it works. 

 

On the other side of the spectrum, though, is what people most likely really mean when they talk about episodic content: a series of shows that string together to tell a complete story, the types of shows we’re used to watching in prime time on TV.  This is where episodic content won’t work on the Web. 

 

The problem is that the viewing experience is so dramatically different.  Our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms act like small theaters, with the TV being the screen or stage. There’s room for more than one person to watch without anyone feeling too crowded, and the distance between our faces and the screen allow us to relax more, with the intention to sit still for awhile and free our minds.  And because TV gives us a schedule of when new episodes will air, we arrange our lives around our favorite shows, and look forward to discussing them with friends afterward.  That conversation, after the first airing of a new episode, is part of the viewing experience. few people, after all, discuss the cliff hanger between episode 6 and 7 of a TV drama when the show is in reruns -- what would be the point? 

Online viewing of episodic content that follows a storyline lacks the ingredients necessary to maintain an audience.  The experience is uncomfortable -– there are so many people that can comfortably squeeze together around a monitor before you need some breathing room –- so viewing is a more solitary experience.  And what the Web gives us in terms of convenience -- we can watch anything we want, whenever we want -- it takes away in terms of urgency and the ability to talk with others about what you watched at a certain time. 

Of course, much of this is conjecture and opinion.  So let’s look at some hard numbers taken from the analytics of my network from Jan. 1 through Feb. 29.   Looking at the most popular pages among viewers who started on our Home page, the most popular category was Food and Drink, followed by Health & Fitness and Women’s Interests.  Rounding out the back, behind even the About Us page and recent new updates, was Web Episodes -- episodic video content.  Even worse, the time spent on that page was among the lowest. 

Content providers can find a home on the Web, and ongoing series are certainly primed to take center stage versus single, one-off videos.  But for Web-based episodic content to really take off, producers need to consider the differences in environment, and steer their efforts toward what really works. 

 

 

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5 comments about "The Year Of Episodic Web Content?".
  1. Tom Konkle from Pith-e Productions , March 14, 2012 at 1:43 p.m.
    The problem is discovery on this sample site. I created several shows and not only forgot they were on there but if you hit the "web series" button this show doesnt come up nor does it come up if you hit "more" apparently it is a shadow page that no one including the creator could find. If I cant find it and I am the most motivated no views is not unsurprising http://www.inventioncomedypod.com/ I typed in combinations of my show name and the url until it came up. The only show (that no adverts or marketing seems to be spend to make audiences aware of on the platform = no audience of strangers) the only other show is http://www.safetygeekscomedypod.com but I have to admit in the glut of platforms this is not the place to go as that show has millions of views on episodes on other platforms. Plus I watch my computer streaming video on a Sony video projector projecting on the wall.
  2. Jeff Koenig from digiriot, INC , March 14, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
    Jay, I first wanted to say I appreciate you taking the time to address this topic here on MediaPost. I realize this is an editorial article based primarily on your own experiences at MyPod Studios and that, I think, is where this article goes wrong. I've encouraged other web series creators and members of the International Academy of Web Television to comment here to perhaps shed additional light on the topic. I can't comment on the series MyPod Studios hosts, as that page of your site is apparently broken at the moment and is loading in raw HTML without any Flash, Java, or CSS styling (the rest of the site displays fine). I would suggest, however, that the low click through to that section has more to do with your SEO and UX than the content. Every other tab in your navigation is specific to an interest (other than the nebulous "Entertainment" marker) and lets users know exactly what they're getting. Oh, and for the record - the "About Us" section is the first link that comes up on Google, so no doubt it gets more traffic than a few sections of your site. Without disputing that much of the content in your other sections is, in fact, episodic web series, what ends up in the Web Series tab? Drama? Comedy? Episodic narrative? If that part of the site was working, what would I see? How is it focused to my needs? And how are you communicating to me what to expect when I go there? At best, it seems like a "Misc." dump for anything that doesn't fit elsewhere. I certainly don't get the impression that MPS has put any effort into highlighting the content in that section, and there's nothing that makes me want to choose that tab over more specific ones. I make these points because mypodstudios is not a well known destination for web series and to suggest that, since episodic content is not your main focus, there's a valid reason for that, which is fine. Much like DailyMotion and Mevio, your company specializes in other types of content while offering a limited amount of episodic content. (Continued in second comment)
  3. Jeff Koenig from digiriot, INC , March 14, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.
    (Continued from previous comment) Whichever screen it's consumed on (and yes, TV's DO count), narrative episodic content has been growing an audience over the last few years and that audience is most definitely engaged in all the ways you claim they're not. Popular series like The Guild, Mortal Kombat, Blood and Bone China, Anyone But Me, Pretty, and several others create conversation from episode to episode across social media channels. The vast majority of these shows *are* released on a set schedule that audiences follow, leading to predictable burst of discussion and social sharing around new releases. Episodic original web content has a long way to go before it finds its niche in the overall entertainment ecosystem, but for the (significant and growing*) audience base that is embracing it, the challenges you outline are non-issues. Episodic content does work on the web, and creators are continually getting better at tailoring their shows to the advantages those differences in environment you mention create. If 2012 isn't "The Year of Episodic Web Content", that year is not far off. Jeff Koenig Board of Directors International Academy of Web Television *Webseries-specific distributors such as Blip, MyDamnChannel, Revision 3, and Koldcast have all reported significant YOY growth for at least the last 4 years, with Blip's viewership surpassing 1B/quarter in Q4 11.
  4. Tom Konkle from Pith-e Productions , March 14, 2012 at 2:23 p.m.
    Great points Jeff. Seriously if I cannot find my OWN show on site then how will it ever be found http://www.inventioncomedypod.com
  5. Walter Sabo from SABO media , March 15, 2012 at 8:48 a.m.
    Only HITVIEWS has successfully solved these Web video star challenges.