Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tubefilter Has Ten Lessons For You

Tubefilter should be called Tube U as lately it has been offering lessons on web series from people who are out there making them. (Important as Apple announces its ITunes Studio for original productions) This time, the nuts and bolts advice comes from Steven Hein who is VP of digital and short form content at Fox.

1. Don’t make cheaper television. Recognize that the web requires a different kind of storytelling. Making cheaper, shorter versions of things that look like TV is a recipe for disaster. Tackle interesting subjects in interesting ways. TV is already online. How is a cheaper shorter version more competitive or compelling?

Like maybe it could be good? Surprising? Unusual?

2. Don’t program like television. Digital viewing is not appointment viewing. There is no rule as far as length or format so creators should embrace this.

Right. But you have to make destination viewing. Make your show an event. (See: Dr. Horrible, Season Premiere of The Guild). Even if they don't watchit right then - they should know when new episodes are on and running and how easy it is to catch up with the rest of the cool kids.

3. Know about destinations and monetization. Most sites produce their video content not to make profit but to differentiate a website within a crowded space. The job of a studio is to create value from intellectual property several different ways. Think about how your show will have more than one revenue stream. And please know the difference between sponsorship, branded entertainment, and brand integration.

Plain, old-fashioned business sense that is often lacking in plans for web series (or movies).

4. Don’t produce too many episodes. Online audiences are finicky. They are constantly looking for something new. Don’t believe that you can keep their interest in something for several weeks or months. Program content in event bursts. If success is found, produce a new “season.” (The exception to this is news/lifestyle programming. Audiences do build relationships around these subjects and will check back often if not daily.)

Build enough to release one DVD with added content. That has to be part of your monetization plan. Figure out your "season". When/where is your audience hanging out and receptive?

5. Don’t neglect marketing/promotion. Viral promotion is the exception, not the rule. Know how to channel something if it goes viral, but don’t plan on something going viral as your promotion plan. Rather than waiting for an audience to discover a show, build up your audience through connection and interaction before it premieres.

(See Mercury Men)

6. Casting and execution are critical. People think their friends are funny, attractive and/or talented. Often they are not (unless you’re friends with Neil Patrick Harris and/or Felicia Day). It doesn’t matter if it is TV, film or the web. A great deal of care and effort has to be placed on putting the right people in-front of (and behind) the camera.

It's called creating a "professional product" - it has to have a compelling reason for people to watch. Making a show look good isn't just 'point and shoot.'

7. Create unique entertainment experiences. As pointed out is Lesson 1, embrace the interactivity of the web to build community, engage the audience and grow a relationship with the viewer. Why does this show or concept have to be made for digital rather than other formats? “Because I tried to sell it as a TV or feature script and nobody bought it” isn’t the right answer.

Every. Freaking. Webisode there should be something that makes the viewer go, "I can't believe I just saw / heard / felt that." (preferably all three)

8. Have a point of view/voice. This lesson is ubiquitous to all formats – web, print, film, TV, etc. A unique point of view with a compelling story is the most important thing a storyteller brings to the table.

Perspective is everything (See Memento)

9. Targeting is essential. Know your audience and know how to reach them. The online landscape is far more expansive then the number of channels on a cable box. There is no scarcity of video options online. Embrace the internet’s ability to find and target a very specific audience.

Find a specific niche within a wide audience. It can't be you are going to do a show to appeal to horror fans. It has to be a show that appeals to zombie fans.

10. Redefine your market. The audience for digital is bigger than the audience that is online watching web video. Give audiences a way to discover your show off-net. Make them go online for your show.

If you are just on the web you are neglecting many people who may become part of your audience. Merchandise helps. Publicity helps. Your job is to make sure everyone who could ever potentially love your series - who would kill their parents for it - knows about your show.


I'm going to come back to these comments after I take a little break. There's some "playing room" within the parameters Mr. Hein sets forth.

1 comment:

Roger Alford said...

While I agree with building your audience beforehand, I think it's important to have a firm release date that's not too far off. People are used to instant gratification on the Web.

For example, when I first saw the trailer for Dr. Horrible, it was a very short wait (a week?) until the first episode. Mercury Men is a shining example of how to do things right, but I think they stumbled in not having a release date. I want to see it, but I'm frustrated in not knowing WHEN. Thank goodness they let me subscribe in iTunes.

On that same note, I also think it's important to release your episodes no more than a week apart. I remember another webcast, Animus Cross, that released its episodes a month apart. By the time the second episode came out, I had forgotten it and never saw the rest.