Yippee for Netflix (sorry -- I didn't make it past the second episode, although I think Taylor Schilling is pretty cute) but it brings up the very interesting notion of how all of these other new Web series are going to find audiences. It's great when you have a built-in audience in the millions who come to you specifically for entertainment programming and you can smack them in the eyeballs on the home page -- but what about all those dozens, if not hundreds, of new Web series that expect to build audiences big enough to attract advertisers?
Broadcast and cable networks spend about $6 billion worth of inventory each year on promos to drive viewership. Anybody doing that on the Web side? I don't think so. Thanks to audience fragmentation across devices and the 500-channel universe, it is getting harder and harder for even the Big Boys (as we will fondly call the broadcast and cable nets) to find audiences in sufficient numbers to get them to sample shows. And with something like 100 new shows slated to pop this fall, get ready to see the same promo 5,000 times before you blow your brains out.
In the spring I wrote a column about all of the new Web series that were promoted during the laughably titled "digital upfront" -- an idea ALMOST as stupid as AOL's new "programmatic upfront." All sorts of content producers announced all sorts of frankly flaccid-sounding ideas for webisodes. And I wondered then, how in the hell are they going to find audiences?
Unless I missed it (always a possibility) I have never seen a Web series promoted on the most effective vehicle yet for helping folks discover new shows: television. Nor have I seen any "tune-in" promos online. In the 20 minutes a year I spend on YouTube, they are constantly hawking (or ahem, recommending) other videos I might like, but I don't recall seeing them recommend webisodes. Why not?
It would be the delusional height of taking yourself way too seriously to think that any single site -- or even portal -- has enough traffic that can be swayed into sampling a new program to build a respectable, loyal audience. That's probably why The Big Boys don't drop much, if any, of their $6 billion on the Web: not enough reach. Even the granddaddy of net reach, Facebook (with 164 million U.S. unique visitors a day) suffers when you start to subtract inactive users, bot traffic, kids under 12; folks not logged on at any given moment, and the 71% of total active users who prefer mobile access.
Programmers should thank goodness that occasionally the press will cover and/or review a webisode. That's about the only time most folks learn about them.