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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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THE STATE OF SEXY: Nudity, Expletives, and Other Stuff YouTube Finds Objectionable

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Recently, Brendan Bradley (Squatters) started posting a new series (Brief Coverage) on his channel. Of the six videos currently posted, thumbnails show the female host in various sexy underwear. Two of the thumbnails include her face. The thumbnail for one of these videos recently prompted the question on Facebook, “is this porn?” A heated discussion followed.  For me, it became an opportunity to share some recent observations on the state of sexy.

For a long time, the going thinking regarding YouTube was that success was all about numbers, specifically numbers of views. Since hot-sexy (however that was defined by viewers) has tended to drive the highest number of views, videos with those subjects have driven views and notoriety. The flip-side of that coin is that the YouTube community (in some instances) and the YouTube advertisers (in other instances) have prevented material that some find offensive (in either category) from receiving monetization. In some instances, videos (like at least one in #BriefCoverage) have been completely removed from the site.

The impact can be broken down into two basic categories:

  1. Stuff that gets removed from the website or sent to the purgatory of 18+ content
  2. Stuff that doesn’t receive monetization or gets low CPMs…

My sense with #1 is that you’re on your own, it’s community driven and you’re videos remain posted at the mercy of the viewers (and YouTube internal reviewers, which number in the far-too-few). However, with #2 you are at the mercy of the advertisers and the demand for content in certain categories. We have two shows in the Ziz Comedy Network that each received monetization over the past month. One show goes after the thriving male-interested-in-slightly-sexy-content. That episode (The Largest Penis in the World) received something in the neighborhood of 22K views over a thirty-day period and made somewhere in the neighborhood of $26 – $30. The other video (Bun in the Oven) received approximately 2K (yes, two thousand) views during the same period and made virtually the same amount of money. What was the difference? This second video is aimed at new moms with a comedic message of women empowerment consistently targeting this audience with content, title, tags, etc. The other difference is that the first video captures the same audience as a gazillion (that’s the literal number) other videos on youtube while the second is doing something that is a lot more unique (relatively speaking).

You can define success in a number of ways. There are great reasons to go after high view counts or high cpm rates (or both). YouTube (though often thought of like a utility) is first and foremost a business that needs advertisers to sustain itself and needs to grow beyond its reputation outside of the webseries community: as the place that you don’t want your 13 y.o. to go alone. In that context, it’s easy to understand why and how certain things happen on YouTube. Unfortunately, for now there are three basic categories for YouTube videos with anything that a user or advertiser might find objectionable: undiscovered, adult, and removed. My sense is that as the broader community of online video viewers evolve so will the rating system and the ways that certain kinds of content finds its way to users. As that happens, it will make room for a much broader range of high quality content that, while not necessarily perfect for the Disney set certainly might be perfect for a differentiated, intelligent, and discerning audience.

Whether or not Brief Coverage is designed to do more than showcase the assets of Liz Katz, I leave to the viewer to decide. But, the conversation it fostered on Facebook reminds me of a question our start-up consultant asked me when we were first forming as an organization: “Are you planning to do porn?” Perplexed and surprised by the question we answered with a resounding: no. “Good,” came an immediate response from our smiling consultant. “There’s just too much competition.”

Why I Love Politicians and What We Can Learn from Them

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We are headlong into the silly season of presidential campaign politics. If you doubt it, it’s time to crawl out from under that rock you’ve been sleeping under. Then, once you plop down on the sofa with your laptop, smart phone, or in front of your television, you’ll figure out who the key players are. This week as we launch Puppet John Law, a series lampooning the process of running for President of the United States, it makes sense to explore why I love politicians and what we can learn from them.

 

I have worked in an integral way on numerous political campaigns; sometimes on the winning side, sometimes on the losing side. I count a number of politicians—in both political parties—good friends. Despite what you might think about their political positions, my experience indicates that (most) politicians start out wanting to make a difference and do right by their constituents. They believe they can further the cause of their electorate, that they can best represent their constituency, and that they will serve the people better than their opponent.

Money and influence sully campaigns and have since the beginnings of democracy. But even today, with all the influence and money that flows through political campaigns, one truism can be gleaned from politics and applied to web television.

“How do you win an election? One vote at a time.” One only has to think back to the George Bush/Al Gore election to remember just how true that is. Even today, we see the Republican primary contenders traveling state-to-state, fair-to-fair, house party-to-house party. Why? To meet people! Raising money is part of the equation, but the goal is to win the support of opinion leaders in communities (communities of people living together, worshipping together, or country-clubbing together, or who share a common ideology). These politicians take their message out to various communities and make the case for how they are unique, different, and better than the rest.

When you listen to top YouTubers talk about keys to their success, it’s not so different. Many of them spend inordinate amounts of time responding to comments and fans, outreaching to communities that would resonate with their show, and working to convert the passive viewer into an active fan who likes, shares and talks about their show. It’s about what makes their show unique, different, and better at connecting with an audience.

Some may argue that the key is to simply create great content. But, discoverability also comes from knowing who would likely connect with that content and helping them find it. How do you build an audience? One view at a time. That’s a great place to start.

Puppet John Law is created by J. Sibley Law with animation powered by HandTurkey Studios.

Follow the facebook fanpage here!

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.

IAWTV Opens Award Submissions

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The following was released today by the IAWTV:

Recognizing content creators driving today’s Web television industry, the International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV) announced a call for submissions for the inaugural IAWTV Awards to be presented on Thursday, January 12, 2012, in Las Vegas during 2012 International CES.

Submissions for the first-ever IAWTV Awards begin Tuesday, October 4, 2011 and must be received by 11:59 p.m. PST on October 31, 2011. For more information, visit http://www.iawtv.org/awards.

For its premier event, the IAWTV Awards consists of 33 categories honoring Web series and talent, both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes.  Submissions for the IAWTV Awards are open to qualifying individual producers, production teams and companies, major studios and networks, independent talent, YouTube stars and mainstream talent. A full list of categories for the first IAWTV Awards can be found at http://iawtv.org/awards/categories.

“The original online video industry is booming and the IAWTV is thrilled to produce the first awards for content creators by content creators, honoring the talented community behind the screens,” says Paul Kontonis, Chairman of the Board of Directors for IAWTV, and Vice President/Group Director of Brand Content at Digitas. “As we open up submissions for our inaugural awards, we welcome entries from content creators who are changing the way we watch and from independent talent to distribution platforms and major studios.”

Qualifications for IAWTV Awards eligibility include:

•        Only episodes of a Web series as defined by the IAWTV that were released during the period of January 1, 2010 through October 31, 2011 are permitted to be entered for consideration in the inaugural IAWTV Awards and only so long as at least two (2) or more episodes of the Web series were released within the eligibility period.

•        The IAWTV defines a Web series as a series of two (2) or more episodes held together by the same title, trade name or mark, or identifying personality common to all the episodes that initially aired and were distributed anywhere in the world via the Internet using website technology (e.g., .com, .net, .biz, etc.).  Exclusions from this are works such as previews, trailers, sizzle reels, commercials, any sequences from feature-length films for theatrical distribution or home video release, aired and unaired episodes of established TV series delivered on free network broadcast television, pay television and all forms of cable television, and any unsold traditional TV series pilots.

•        Both members and non-members of the IAWTV are welcome to submit their shows for consideration.

•        All submissions and entry fees must be received by 11:59pm PST on October 31, 2011. All submissions must be received via the IAWTV’s online entry system at http://submissions.iawtv.org from the owner or authorized representative of the Web series.

Active members of the IAWTV will vote on IAWTV Awards and nominees will be announced in December 2011 following preliminary voting. To become a member visit http://iawtv.org/join-us.

About the IAWTV Awards

The International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV) Awards is an official Web television industry awards and experience established for content creators, by content creators. The awards serve as a platform for members of the IAWTV to honor the best of their profession, foster collaboration with peers and industry luminaries and to support the IAWTV. Proceeds raised from the show are used by the IAWTV for the betterment of the community by providing more member resources as well as professional development and education for professionals working in Web television.

About The International Academy of Web Television

The International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV) is a nonprofit organization comprised of leaders in the field of Web television, Web video and the digital entertainment industries. Founded in 2009, the IAWTV is helping to shape the rapidly evolving Web television industry while providing a venue for the acknowledgement of artistic and technological achievement in original entertainment distributed on the open Internet.  IAWTV members include actors, agents, composers, content developers, directors, editors, producers, technology innovators, writers, and other industry professionals all of whom joined the organization based on their passion and dedication to advance the craft of Web television. For more information, please visit www.iawtv.org or follow us on twitter @iawtv.

About CEA

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is the preeminent trade association promoting growth in the $186 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry. More than 2,000 companies enjoy the benefits of CEA membership, including legislative advocacy, market research, technical training and education, industry promotion, standards development and the fostering of business and strategic relationships. CEA also owns and produces the International CES – The Global Stage for Innovation. All profits from CES are reinvested into CEA’s industry services.  Find CEA online at www.CE.org and www.Innovation-Movement.com.

IAWTV and Streamys Move To Separate Awards Shows

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Disclosure: J. Sibley Law is a member of the IAWTV and its Awards Committee.

Today the International Academy of Web Television (IAWTV) announced that it was breaking off negotiations with Tubefilter regarding acquisition of the Streamy Awards. The announcement expressed a natural conflict of structure between for profit and not-for-profit entities. Ultimately, the IAWTV will produce its own show and by all accounts the relationship between the two organizations is very friendly.

That said, many people were surprised by the announcement. Both Zadi Diaz and Felicia Day shared very heartfelt thoughts about the announcement shortly after it was made and expressed a very positive tone for the future.

Amber J. Lawson, Chair of the Awards Committee, who has been very involved in the dialog with Tubefilter, agreed to be interviewed about the decision via Skype Chat earlier today.

Here is that interview:

Trend-Setter Gets Invited to YouTube Partner Program

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Melissa Gonzalez doesn’t let the dust settle under her feet. She is co-founder of RS Pop-Up Shop, which blends online video, with fashion, branding, and a hot store front location in mid-town Manhattan on Lexington Ave. The former host of Latin Beat on BET also runs beautyfashionfitness.com. To call her a go-getter with vision would be an understatement. She’s been a Wall Street Executive, a television host, a style maven, and a successful blended-industry entrepreneur. This woman knows a few things. However, recently, she and a friend started a comedy show “just for fun” called: The Glory Box Girls. Though the chit-chat might edge toward racy (they’re on YouTube, afterall), something unexpected happened. One of their videos crossed beyond a thousand views, began receiving a lot of comments, and then YouTube invited them to include that video in their Partner Program. Melissa  agreed to go on camera can talk a bit about their entry into the Partner Program, some of the choices the program is influencing, and she agreed to come back and talk with us in about six months to discuss how it’s going.

Here is what Melissa has to say:

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