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Launching an A-Lister’s Web Series – Bryan Singer’s H+

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Yesterday Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) released the first two of forty-eight episodes of his dystopian near-future thriller, “H+”. Basic premise is that people now get chips implanted in their bodies. These chips basically replace their mobile devices. In one scene in a parking garage, a driver almost runs into someone. Wife suspects, then states, that he must be still watching the game. He explains that it’s in overtime and that he had “the opacity down to five percent.” Then, people start falling over dead and meyhem ensues.

The headline in The Wrap has Singer claiming, “We will change the way people view online content.” Unless he’s planning on selling the products of H+ himself, the claim is a bit…much. From Caprica’s Hollo Bands to Jesse Cowell’s Status Kill, the notion of accessing another world or transferring one’s device features to something that connects directly to the body/mind experience is nothing new. Don’t get me wrong; Singer is, as always, masterful at telling a story, creating an environment, and delivering very high quality production values.

FIRST EPISODE OF “H+”

I think his quote might have been better stated: we will tap into the way that people view online content, because they certainly do. It has long been understood in the online video industry that every episode is an entry point into a series. In The Wrap article, Singer explains, “You can reorganize the episodes, collect them and interact with the show.” This postmodern, non-linear approach to storytelling may not be completely original, but it’s darn smart. And we can be certain, given his pedigree, that Singer will be the master of it. Prepare to use your YouTube Channel’s playlist function to create your own collections, orders, etc. Going with the notion that a rising tide lifts all boats, here’s to hoping he’s very successful in this endeavor.

A final note on something I usually find valuable: how did they preview and promote the show? Assuming there’s a good PR engine operating in the background (note the article in The Wrap, above and numerous articles on release day), from a purely preview and release standpoint here’s what a quick search on YouTube uncovered:

Videos and Views a Day After Launch

Said another way, that’s essentially nine videos to launch a 48-episode online video series. All that and countless articles in publications ranging from USA Today to Wired Magazine and the view count on the first two episodes the day after launch is at just over 50,000 views. One could begin to fret for Singer at this low view count for what was surely an expensive production by online video standards. However, there are still 46 more episodes coming, who knows how many additional supporting videos, and who knows how many re-orderings of the episodes on how many different viewing platforms? Time will tell if this plotline about something going viral will turn into the series going viral. But, I think we’re only beginning to see what will be a long build for H+ and Singer’s forray into online video.

Copyright © 2012, by J. Sibley Law

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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.

What about the Writer’s Guild of America?

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Webseries creators have long had questions about unions. As a group, many of us write, direct, produce, some of us star in our works, run camera, and do all the editing. So the question many creators have is regarding whether to join a union (SAG, AFTRA, Writer’s Guild of America East/West, Producer’s Guild, etc.). In trying to answer this question for myself, I tracked down Ursula Lawrence (ulawrence@wgaeast.org) of Writer’s Guild East and asked her a few questions on camera at their headquarters in downtown Manhattan.

Free 3D Modeling Tool Enhances Digital Video Production

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Recently, while perusing the archives of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, CT—where Saxon Mills is based—I came across something interesting.

Model from the American Shakespeare Theatre (1950s)

It was a contact sheet for a set of photographs of a model of a set, which was to be built on this hallowed stage in the mid-1950’s. I quickly saw the corollary between these giant stage productions and the productions of webseries, music videos, and other intentional online video content.  3D modeling of sets is clearly nothing new. What is exciting is how accessible they are for the cost-conscious producer of online video, today.

Google Sketchup from "Good Night and Good Luck"

The 2005 film, Good Night and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney utilized Google Sketchup. In 2006, production designer James Bissell was quote as saying, “I’ve used SketchUp to design movie sets for almost two years and I love the ease with which I can add to an existing design. Making quick edits is crucial to the movie production process and this software delivers on its promise of ease and accessibility.” The ease and accessibility is exactly why Google Sketchup is such a powerful tool in the creation of online video.

There are so many different reasons and ways to make the most of 3D modeling for production. However, this post is focused on how our team has reduced time on location by utilizing this free tool.

Twice I have had access to my ideal location with very limited time to set, shoot, and strike. In both cases we beat the allotted time by 15 minutes only because we had spent considerable time on location virtually in Google Sketchup. Google Sketchup comes with an expansive library of models to pull into the virtual location, including Arri and Kino Flo lights & stands as well as models of architectural elements such as Pella windows and models of people in various shapes, sizes, and colors.

Google Sketchup Model from Wishing Music Video

For the music video Wishing, we created a restaurant counter and a back wall and loaded in pre-existing models of actors, stools, and diner-booths. From there we created a lighting design including the specific lights we planned to use. Prior to the shoot, cast and crew received a copy of the 3D model. When shoot day came, set, shoot, and strike took two hours and forty-five minutes. A similar

Still from Wishing Music Video

process was used when the team had one day to shoot twenty-two pages of script in the Hersham Acorn Newspapers offices for The Oligarch Duplicity.

Knowing that we didn’t want to move lights during the shoot, we were able to load in pre-existing models of the lights we planned to use and office furniture as well as models of people.

Google Sketchup Model from Wishing Music Video

We created an entire storyboard of shots with the lights in place. Though the team spent less than eighteen hours to set, shoot, and strike the newspaper office, it was only possible because we had spent more than eighty hours on location virtually.

Google Sketchup Model from The Oligarch Duplicity

There are many reasons to create 3D models prior to production. This is something they knew at the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre more than fifty years ago; back when the slide-rule was the tool of quick calculations. Now today, when productions are viewed around the world simultaneously from small and large production companies alike; it’s great that such a powerful tool is available to take advantage of the latest technology to do the same thing. What should be exciting for the online video industry is that budget or lack of it is not a barrier to use.

You can find Google Sketchup here: http://sketchup.google.com/.

New Media is “Like Film on Speed!”

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Rocket’s Tail spends a lot time talking with the people who make online video possible from the business standpoint. But, there are some fantastic creators out there who are putting their ingenuity and artistic predilections to entertaining the rest of us. They play a critical part of the development of this industry. What do they expect when they get involved in online video projects? How do the projects stack up to their expectations? This past week we caught up with some of the people who have created O-Cast (Anne Richmond, Leah Johnston, Kate Kuen, and Turner Smith). They and others have put a lot of time and creative energy into the NYC online video hit O-Cast. Here is what they had to say:

New York Times tackles 3D

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Thank you James Cameron for helping the world see that, yes, 3D is pretty darn cool; even with cheap versions of the goggles. I may be ready for my cool Ray-Ban styled 3D glasses; but the rest of the world is just now getting a handle on this fact, “What?! I can watch football live in 3D?!!!!” And happily as CES, the worlds largest consumer electronics show, gets fully underway this week in Las Vegas; we will be treated to a bevy of articles about the coming 3D revolution (at least that’s what broadcasters are hoping!).

This morning the New York Times jumped with both feet with this article: Television Begins a Push Into the 3rd Dimension.

If you found it here, pass it on and send people back! Thanks.

Written by @SibLaw_Official

January 6, 2010 at 9:59 am

Get Ready for 3D to Kick You in the Face!

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Yeah, you heard it right…kicked in the FACE! I recently sat in the screening room at 3ality (said: three-ality) Digital in Burbank, California. A camera swept across the stadium toward Bono and the Edge in a clip from the U23D concert movie, and I brought my fingers to the side of my neck to check my heart, which was pounding! Quick cut to a kickoff in last year’s Super Bowl in 3D. I’m not talking about a layer of one team, a layer of another team, and then everything else. I’m talking about a real three-dimensional image; smooth 3D from the closest player to the very back of the stadium, the way my eyes naturally see it. Absolutely amazing! And still, most of the population is perplexed by all the 3D talk.

Over the past year the press has done little to clear up why some people are talking so much about 3D television. The same questions always come up: Do I really need to buy yet another TV to get 3D? Can’t I watch 3D on my current TV? Do I have to wear those funny glasses? The immediate answer to these questions is always “Yes,” and then the writer goes into tech speak and my eyes roll back into my head as I start thinking about something on another website and click away from the article.

After watching the sample in the screening room, we walked into the lobby, where we watched clips from popular television shows in 3D. Again, the images were incredible. So what’s the big deal? Why can’t I have my 3D TV now? Well, you can…sort of. Get ready for the rich-nerdy-tech-girl down the street to have the coolest, newest TV technology before you do. But it won’t be long before you can have it too!

Acer is coming out with a cool new laptop pimped out with a 3D monitor that’ll run somewhere in the neighborhood of $800. But the real test will be next year when FIFA and Sony team up to produce 25 live sporting events in 3D. What I’ve heard is that the events will feature Manchester United, that 3D monitors will be placed in pubs throughout England, and that 3D glasses will be given out with beverages  (gives a whole new meaning beer goggling!).

So here’s the key for me: blow-your-mind-incredible production values. What made those images of the Super Bowl and the U2 concert and even the nature images in the 3ality Digital screening room so compelling? They were well produced. When I was watching them, I wasn’t thinking, “What great 3D images.” I was thinking, “Wow, what an incredible experience!” The impression was so mind-bending because it wasn’t just about the 3D images, it was about being engaged with and immersed in the content. It would be pure joy to be in a pub in England with a group of happy (um, drunk) fans when that first ball comes flying out of the television at them. Now that’s just good clean fun! Fortunately, James Cameron and Steven Spielberg are leading the charge with 3D films. We can hope that equal heavyweights lead the charge in television.

While I was at the 3ality Digital studio, Angela Gyetvan gave me a brief tour of their system for capturing 3D images, as well as talked about common misconceptions regarding the technology. Please enjoy the tour…and meeting Angela:

When I left 3ality Digital that afternoon, those images kept coming back to me. The experience was unforgettable! Not only do I want to own the latest and greatest technology to view this incredible new content, I want to start shooting in 3D…now!  So, yes, you will need glasses, but the latest versions look more like Raybans. And, Yes, you’ll need a new TV, because, NO!, your current TV absolutely will not play 3D like this. Once you see 3D this way, you won’t want to go back.

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