Commentary

Where Minor League Shows Play: Looking For A Breakout Player

Your Web series just got upgraded to a full, TV-length-episode series. A nice sign you are growing up, for sure.

The Julia Stiles-starring YouTube series “Blue” just got that good news. It is now moving to Hulu, the more mainstream venue for live streaming video. The series is about a mother trying to keep her career as an escort a secret from her teenage son.

Numbers have floated around that the three-year series of 10-minute episodes has pulled in 20 million “views.”  On the surface, that sounds like a big deal. Surely, broadcast prime-time shows that average 20 million or more viewers for one episode, such as CBS’s “NCIS,” get advertisers’ attention and can make millions of dollars.

To date “Blue” probably doesn’t get the same 10-second or 15-second pre-roll commercial unit price. But owners of the show may claim a better-than-average CPM of $40 to $50.  In comparison, broadcasters’ average prime-time CPM is in the $35 range.

As this column has said before, all this plays into the role of a minor league baseball player showing promise, or perhaps an off-Broadway show moving to the big stages in midtown New York City, or maybe a cable TV show heading to the broadcast networks.

Transition is never easy. FX’s “Anger Management” may have performed decently as a cable show, but on sister network Fox, where it has been dabbling as a summer show in recent weeks. pulling a 0.5 rating/1 share among the key 18-49 crowd -- and some 1.3 million viewers -- doesn’t cut it.

“Anger” actually started off much better in terms of viewers on FX. It premiered with almost 5.8 million viewers, but recently struggled to get around 800,000 viewers on the cable network. Sometimes you need rookies to fill a hole in your lineup. Financial issues are at stake: “Anger” got an early unprecedented 9- episode deal. That content needs to be run somewhere.

The Internet -- in theory -- has no “holes” to fill. Its schedule can be unlimited, depending on the business model of any premium video platform.

Other Web-derived efforts have had a chance for the big stage. ABC did “In the Motherhood” with 13 initial episodes in the 2008-2009 season; more recently, CBS had “S#*! My Father Says” in 2010-2011.

Still, another point of view: Why should a small Web series even think about moving to bigger platforms -- broadcast, cable, or pricier video streaming platforms? Because that’s where the bigger advertiser money is -- right now, anyway.

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