Sib Law's Blog

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Steeping Success in Online Video

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Blip.tv asked one of the world’s leading research firms to find out more about web series audience behaviors by surveying 1,500 of its users. Then they shared the information with the public. Sweet!  But as a show creator, I want to know what their data means for me! Specifically, I want to know how I can parlay this into increasing the profits of my shows.

“We discovered that people really jump around and watched all kinds of content.”
— Joseph White, Digital Research Manager, Blip.tv

Speaking by phone, Joseph White, Digital Research Manager for Blip.tv, highlighted what jumped out at him from the study. He said this would be the year of cord shaving. In his mind, the general public probably would not cut the cords to their cable boxes or satellite dishes. However, many of them would spend less time watching broadcast programming and more time viewing online video. Of special note was the fact that viewers weren’t just niche viewers. “People and advertisers like to think that video game viewers watch that kind of content, and drama series watchers want only that kind of content. But we discovered that people really jump around and watch all kinds of content,” White explained. “We believed this was happening and the study confirmed it.” He went on to say they discovered that peak viewing happened during prime time, which “makes sense, because the largest bulk of people’s free time comes at the end of the day.”

Advertisers are concerned about when people are watching certain kinds of content. Obviously, if you are Boston Market, knowing that your ads will be seen by the highest number of people during the dinner hour is a tremendous benefit. Dailymotion’s VP of Content, David Ripert, confirmed that his network saw 6-9 pm as their prime hours, but the second highest viewing for them came at lunchtime. However, when trying to ascertain what that means for the creator of online shows, he explained, “Users are looking for entertainment and news; whether in clip form or full length, the quality expectation is higher and higher.”

Digging deeper into data about online video viewership, the Nielsen Cross Platform Report (Q1: 2011) is chock full of information about how people consume media and on which platforms. Though on the whole, television viewership increased by 22 minutes per month, some interesting facts emerge at the edges of the viewership. Generally speaking, the highest consumers of online video watch the least amount of television, and vice versa. To some that may seem like an obvious statistic, the kind worthy of a “doh!” But layered into that fact is who they are: women age 18-49 spend 4:57 watching online video each month, while their male counterparts spend 7:02. However, when broken down by ethnicity, the amount of time spent watching online video showed a wide spread: Asian (10:19), Hispanic (6:24), African-American (5:52), White (3:37). It’s no wonder that shows like Tony Clomax’s “12-Steps to Recovery,” “EastWillyB” created by Yamin Segal and Julia Grob, and “Odessa,” written by Jorge Rivera and James Peoples have found audiences and/or development opportunities. Certainly high production value and great characters help to surface these shows, but so do the racially diverse casts and the multiplicity of issues.

12-Steps to Recovery: EP 13 – Catch Social
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/12stepswebseries/12-steps-to-recovery-episode-13-catch-social-5686793%5D

When asked about the disparity of online viewership by ethnicity, Jorge Rivera said, “I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that in general, audiences are finding stuff online that meets their viewing interests in a way they aren’t on finding on traditional TV… That’s not to say that writing and casting ethno-centric content is the magic bullet, but it’s one small example of the greater experimental spirit of the Internet that makes it creatively more appealing…to everybody.”

East Willy B: EP 1 – You’ve Been Served
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/eastwillyb/east-willyb-you-ve-been-served-episode-1-5304840%5D

For her part Julia Grob suggested, “One reason may be the median age of the Latino population which is 27.4 years, vs. 36.8 median age of the US population as a whole. 22% of the Latino population is under 18! This means, the majority of Latinos are under 30.  We don’t remember a time where there wasn’t the Internet. We are trendsetters, on the cusp of new technology & new media — which would contribute to the higher number of hours spent viewing online video vs. the mainstream populations which is older and more likely to access video through old media methods (cable, dvd).”  While Rivera and Grob are mindful of these issues, Clomax took it a step further, saying, “The most important thing is to make sure that your content and subject matter crosses racial and socio-economic lines. If you’re producing something that everyone can relate to and you are appealing to all these different people, it will contribute to the success of the show.”

If [sci-fi fans] are as technology-forward as many suggest, Nielsen’s data
indicates that they are the super-users when it comes to online video.

Other niches of people also are known to spend copious amounts of time online. Shows like “The Guild” have capitalized on them. Many believe that sci-fi fans comprise their own grouping of technology-forward people who spend more time watching shows online than other groups. If they are as technology-forward as many suggest, Nielsen’s data indicates that they are the super-users when it comes to online video. “Mercury Men” (SyFy), “Ark” (Hulu), and “RCVR” (YouTube/Machinima) delivered their own slants on the genre, while at the same time adhering to a trifecta of high production-values, strong characters, and intriguing stories.

RCVR: Episode 1 – Little Green Men

Blake Calhoun, one of online video’s early and prolific show creators, is betting that he can find this niche and titillate them with his new show “Continuum.” (The first three episodes (of eighteen) are being shown exclusively on the show’s Facebook fanpage.) When asked about his audience, Calhoun said, “Genre shows and/or niche shows seem to work best online. This was definitely a consideration when I was developing “Continuum.’” He explained that releasing the first three episodes is part of a broader buzz marketing plan that includes the good fortune of having had the teaser trailer selected to play at Comic-Con. But is that enough?

Actress Melanie Merkosky as "Raegan" in Continuum

Answering that question, Steve Lettieri, who runs SciFinal.com says, “Character always wins the day for most successful web series, sci-fi or otherwise. Does the series have characters worth watching again and again? If so, then things like production values, visual effects, etc., can help separate you from the pack.”

“Don’t have unrealistic expectations about the early stages.
And, don’t ever, ever, ever stop because one person
—or one hundred people—are not jumping in to lend a hand.”

— Rob Barnett, Founder & CEO, My Damn Channel

In trying to read the tea leaves of this steeping cup of data I turned to Rob Barnett, who has created a lean and extraordinarily successful online video channel. When Time Magazine ran its article on the best websites of 2011, My Damn Channel was prominently featured. Barnett had some interesting things to say about what makes for a successful online video: “The old days of putting up great video and wishing for virality are over. The amount of new online video is growing at a pace too fast to fathom. If you’re in the business of figuring out how to use video to promote yourself, or an idea, or a cause, or a product of any kind, then you’ve got to create a business model and a game plan for every video that includes marketing in every possible way.” He even gave some hard data about what works in terms of length for online videos: 2-3 minutes max. He suggested that show creators need to gain permission from the audience to dive deeper into characters and produce longer episodes, but only after the audience wants it.

My Damn Channel’s: Dicki – The Boyfriend

Julia Grob and her team took that approach when they created the EastWillyB (with episodes in the 2-3 minute range). Then, their fans responded. “After launching the pilot, we received feedback from fans asking for longer episodes and more content,” she explained. Deeper dives into the characters and longer episodes may just be in the offing.

When asked what advice he has for show creators, Barnett’s passion is clear: “the best advice is always to follow your own inner voice. Our road was paved by finding great partners to help get us to every next step on the path. We only hired talent and staff we knew were as intensely committed to creating the best work as we were. Realize that every creative partnership has to have equal shares of trust, hard work, and commitment from every member of the team. Be about the ‘long money.’ Don’t have unrealistic expectations about the early stages. And don’t ever, ever, ever stop because one person—or one hundred people—are not jumping in to lend a hand. Relentless, passionate, constant pursuit of your goal always wins out in the end if you never bail on your desire.” Passion. Commitment. Quality.

[For web series success] “You should focus on five things: produce content regularly,
think about earning your audience rather than deserving your audience, target a niche,
go after a community that will embrace your content, and constantly interact with your fans.”

— Dina Kaplan, Co-Founder, Blip.tv

Back at Blip.tv, co-founder Dina Kaplan punctuated her thoughts saying, “The most exciting thing to us is how savvy producers are getting about producing and marketing shows. Two good examples of series doing things right are “Girl Parts” and “Vinyl Rewind.”

Blip.tv: GirlParts – The Wake Up Call
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/girlparts/episode-04-the-wake-up-call-5501671%5D

Kaplan continued, “They get that shows should have strong enough production values but should also really engage their communities of fans.” To do this Kaplan gave some insightful marching orders: “For a web series producer to be successful in 2011, you should focus on five things: produce content regularly, think about earning your audience rather than deserving your audience, target a niche, go after a community that will embrace your content, and constantly interact with your fans and even let your fans interact with other fans. This is how you will get the great multiplier effect that turns a series from a hope into a successful, sustainable business.”

Easy to say. And as online video begins shaving off bits of traditional broadcast viewership, there are great opportunities for deserving show creators. Those who factor in these many variables will inevitably have greater chances for success.

Written by J. Sibley Law.

Copyright © 2011, by J. Sibley Law, all rights reserved.

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4 Responses

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  1. Very Interesting

    itcamefromlakemi

    November 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

  2. That last paragraph summed it all up well, audiences are earned one person at a time! Create content and they will come is not true at all in this cluttered online video world.

    Excellent article, thanks for sharing!

    Jeremy Campbell

    November 9, 2011 at 11:45 am

  3. Great post, Sib.

    Curiously enough I only knew about 4 of the shows listed above, despite my active presence and engagement online, before I read this blog. This is a struggle for viewers and creators alike.

    I am thrilled to see that many creators are finding success and audiences are connecting to content presented on the web. =)

    Gary Ploski

    November 9, 2011 at 9:04 pm

  4. I can only hope that “Continuum” can relieve my Battlestar Gallactica hangover.

    John Sembrot

    November 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm


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