Will Hulu Ever Get What Makes A Webisode Work?


Apparently Hulu is getting into the original Web programming business. Peter Kafka at All Things D reports this morning that the TV replay site put out a casting call for a show host on a daily 5-minute review of pop culture and media.

Because, what, there aren't enough of those around? As Peter mentions, this sounds like yet another "Talk Soup" or just about anything else on E! or VH-1. Curiously, they seem interested in manning this thing with yet another attractive on-air personality of the sort we have come to watch and see through for years on these shows, both online and off. Maybe Hulu has the reach and merchandising smarts to make this work. But after reporting for a decade on old media's many, many attempts to create breakthrough Webisodics, I have my doubts. Remember "The Den" and some of the high profile series launched at MySpace back in the days when that site was supposed to conquer us all? How many of us watched the first episode of these experiments only to lose interest soon after?

It seems to me that at least one group of video makers has already cracked the code on making ongoing Web series work -- the top series on YouTube. Don't we already have enormously effective, personable and fun online video series about pop culture and media in "What the Buck?" or "Ray It Ain't So?"

Not that there isn't always room for more good content, but it seems to me that major media keep banging their heads and throwing their wallets at the Webisodic model without paying close enough attention to the one place where it is working best. Guys like Ray Johnson or Michael Buckley on YouTube achieve what media companies generally have failed to do online, build and maintain a reliable ongoing audience for a regular series. The latest post of Ray's show has drawn nearly 3 million views and countless comments. He has 2.3 million subscribers.

I was speaking with the irrepressible Michael Buckley a while back about his rise to YouTube notoriety, and it is abundantly clear that this guy's longevity is based both on his cleverness and his genuine love of the community he serves. I spoke with him by phone just after he had posted the latest of his thrice-weekly episodes, and he told me he would be spending the next two hours at least responding to comments on the site. I had a similar conversation with Kandee Johnson, a make-up artists who became one of the more popular makers of beauty tutorials on YouTube. Similarly she said she spends most evenings responding to user feedback. For Michael and Kandee community is part of the process. It isn't an add-on to Web video or a mere comments section beneath the real goods. Interacting with the viewers is that special new element that social video has introduced that is most likely responsible for giving these folks longevity that few professionally produced Webisodics have achieved.

Online video watchers are attracted to edgy and funny personalities, to be sure. But it is that feedback loop that not only connects the audience to the show and the personality but really seems to feed that host's own enthusiasm. Buckley told me, for instance, that it would take a lot to get him off the Web and over to TV. He sees himself as made for and by the Web's unique interactivity. And it shows in the consistent energy of his performance.

Can you get that in a casting call?

2 comments about "Will Hulu Ever Get What Makes A Webisode Work? ".
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  1. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., December 6, 2010 at 7:36 p.m.

    Hulu and - the perfect pair! Corporate big media hipsters and barely restrained psycho bikers, what could be better? Somebody who reads this who knows the suits at Hulu - tell 'em what they're missing. I'll be waiting by the phone. Oh wait, we'll probably end up getting some fairly smarmy Tosh .0 rip-off that'll fade into obscurity faster than you can say "AOL Daybreak".

  2. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, December 7, 2010 at 10:07 a.m.

    A 5-minute review of pop culture and media? That means that three days into it they will have used up their 15 minutes of fame.

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