Episode 18: The One About "IndieTV" Versus "Immersive Entertainment"

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A passionate debate recently took place in the online video world about whether the short, scripted tv show model can gain an audience, versus interactive content and personality-driven entertainment. This is the kind of shit we love for New Mediacracy, so we gathered up Barrett Garese, Brett Register, Craig Frank, Jamie Blair, along with NM regulars Chris McCaleb, Zadi Diaz, and Steve Woolf and downed six, count 'em six bottles of wine.

The backstory: Barrett had delivered his WebTVWorkshop tip of the day video back in May, which got picked up last week by others in the web show world. That led to a passionate discussion on Twitter with quite a few participants. There was a follow-up Tumblr post by Barrett that led to numerous replies. David Nett put forth his thoughts on Facebook, which also had a lively comments exchange afterwards, and there was a Tubefilter article by Marc Hustvedt, which generated similarly passionate comments. There were other blog posts by creators on their own sites, as well.

I think anyone interested in the future of web shows and online video entertainment would be interested in this discussion, and it goes to the heart of what we've been discussing recently on New Mediacracy. Give it a listen and post your comments below: is IndieTV a steady model that people can wrap their minds around, or should creators focus on pushing the envelope of storytelling?

Direct MP3 link

10 Comments

Edited post of my comments on TF.

::::: “if you’ve got the audience to come back for each video you post, there’s nothing that can stop you.”

And there you have it in a nutshell. Who has an audience? Do you want one? If you already have built an audience then you are doing something right. If not, well there are different ways of looking at that.

As an analogy, the Versace “bondage collection” was designed 10 years before it gain popular acceptance. In other words if you do not have an audience perhaps you are just way ahead of your time. On the other hand it might be that you are just producing a show that does not meet a market need. If that is the case then spend some time understanding your target audience and create a product that will resonate with them.

Full blown ARGs and interactivity are just some of the options the web avails a story teller. You have many more options than you have on TV and whether you choose to use them is up to you. The key is to look to where your competitive advantage lies. TV does narrative extremely well. Perhaps you have a concept that takes narrative to the next level and that is where your competitive advantage lies. Perhaps you know Youtubers who can bring in their own fans as viewers. Perhaps your show is just short and the viewer can sneak it into their busy schedule. Perhaps you have a sponsor and a huge marketing budget. Perhaps you are a great puzzle designer or can just write compelling characters. What is clear is that if you do not have a clear appreciation of who your audience is and where your competitive advantage lies then you are fighting an up hill battle from day one.

:::::: “If I’m wrong, then maybe someone can tell me just what the hell they mean when they say we need to innovate?”

An online audience tends to be moved by a certain level of engagement that does not exist for regular TV. For example, I seriously doubt if anyone who was in IRC chat when the final video of Maddison Atkins 1.0 chapter 1 was released. We were a small group. We had only known Maddison and Adam a few days but we knew them the way you would know a best friend.

Then the video was posted. We watched. One by one, a cry of NO, NO, NO…… echoed through the room. We were in shock. It was a JFK moment. One of those moments no one who was there will EVER forget. It was a transformative moment. It was a moment created by all the best the web has to offer.

Now, was this a hit web series. Not if you judge by awards or view counts. But if you measure by how much it affected those who watched then we are talking mega hit status. I would hazard a guess that I am far from alone in thinking that.

Now not everyone is going to tell a story in the manner of Maddison Atkins. However that show demonstrates that it is possible to move an audience in a way that conventional TV would find it hard to replicate.

There is nothing wrong with TV. The last season of Supernatural for example was spectacular story telling. But the web does offer a chance for innovation from those that are up to the challenge. Bring it!

I should add that “engagement” comes in many forms. It can come from puzzles and games within a show, it can come from chat, it can come from activity on a discussion board, it can come from comments, it can come from live events both online and off, or it can come from within the plot itself etc etc etc.

Also, engagement does not always come from within the story itself. Engagement can come from social networking activity by the cast and crew of a show, it can come from meta discussions about the show, it can come from building street teams or other behind the scenes activity to promote and market a show. Engagement on the web is pervasive. It is part of the DNA of the web.

Now any web series is free to ignore all this but they do so at their own risk. Those who think the are smarter than their audience will be fighting an up hill battle.

Now if you have a huge marketing budget and a major studio behind you then perhaps you can go it alone. But why? It is more fun to engage. It tends to create more compelling content. And, most importantly it helps build up communities on the web.

It is not so much about who is the best actor or who has the best product. Many of the Youtubers are just being them self and having a conversation on the web. They use the web well by engaging their viewers.

The point that has been made over and over is that if web series creators fail to engage the audience in any of the myriad of ways offered by the web their product is likely to just sit on the shelf unnoticed.

Now if you get front page exposure on a portal site with autoplay you start from a higher plane in terms of exposure. However even here you limit the potential audience for the show.

Engaging does not mean sitting around discussing meta with other web series creators. It does not mean RT-ing the same bunch of inside web series friends on twitter. Engaging means jumping into the social environment of the web and becoming part of the global conversation.

Oh, and lest I "forget".......

:):):)

I like to use the term "web series" for anything short with a serialized narrative, "web show" for something short that is more show than serialized narrative (comedy skits etc) and "web news" for anything short thats news about the web. We also use the term "community video" to replace the term UGC because it is more representative of what it is. That nicely covers most things.

As for episodes of a show, well they are episodes of a web series or a web show. No need to re-invent the wheel.

As for TV series like gossip girl, right now that is pretty much TV on the internet so let the studios figure out what they want to call that type of stuff.

I'd just like to say as a creator from Michigan, who fully intends to build something out here:

This is exactly the conversation we need to have to move everything forward as an art and entertainment form, and to bring new ideas to everyone's table. Because we're going to need those who've got the talent to bring interactivity working with storytellers to fuse the concepts before someone(s) come through being able to blend them both off the bat.

I spoke to Barrett on his blog and while we disagree on what side of the line we come down on with respect to "derivative bullshit" and Online Content/Distribution, I'll say that it's a conversation I love to be a part of and I'm certainly glad he's brought it up, especially as I try to make my way with a comedic narrative on YouTube without being pretty or casting Craig Frank. I'm a proud part of that "350" listening in.

So, from Michigan, if there's a conversation I can take part in from out here and share thoughts and conversation, I am in. I think we're starting to head toward a new epoch in this, and want to take part while building up 'infrastructure' out here as well.

James

I'm also going to offer up the identifying term "InternEntertainment", because it's so retarded as a coined term, modern Public Relations companies will love it due to it's "Syngergies" and "High Concept", and we will all become moguls and stars.

You're welcome, Bubble Friends.

The notion that we do not know how to do interactivity is just not accurate. The Youtubers do it every day at the conversational level. Lonelygirl15 was interactive at this level from day one and layered on multiple methods of engaging an audience. A huge creative audience grew up around the series. Many went on to create what we called at the time community video series. Some of these included ARG and puzzle components. All attempted to engage the viewer in a conversation and draw them into a deeper level of entertainment.

Since then we have had Harpers Globe which used many levels of engagement. You have Level 26 doing a digi-novel with the creator of CSI not only experimenting with a format but engaging deeply and personally in the community he built around the property. Other web series with interactivity were mentioned in the podcast. Conspiracy for Good (Tim Kring/Company P) has just ended. In that one new "friends" in Canada, Sweden and Europe congregated on the web to fight a cause. We also applied some of the activist techniques applied at the last G20 within the engagement of the show.

You are simply not going to learn how this stuff is done if you do not participate. Today not everything is a mega hit. Not everything gets huge views or traction. However we have a huge amount of history with content that engages the audience at a visceral level.

Now if you want to ignore all this and just upload your web series to the internet then go ahead. But if you want to participate in this brave new world you need to study what has already been done and most importantly you need to engage with new and experimental shows as they are developed and released.

To pretend that this is a new debate is not new either. It has been discussed over at Anchor Cove since the early days of Lonelygirl15. When Hulu came on the market it was a big topic on Glenn's show on what was then BreeFM. We understood this was a fundamental change in the competitive landscape for web series and in the future it would be much harder for them to gain traction simply because traditional TV has so many compelling offerings. It has always been clear that a web series needed to provide something "special" and with the launch of Hulu that need became all the more important.

The conspiracy for good comment should have read "Canada/USA". Also there may have been participants from other countries/continents involved and the series was certainly partly produced in Africa.

Seems fitting that I'm only just catching up on this now. I saw the hubbub at the time but wasn't able to follow it up - so thanks for the interesting discussion.

The podcast is interesting on many levels. The topic is current (still) and hearing debates wax and wane, take diversions and explore points of view I hadn't previously considered is stimulating. Hearing people who are within the bubble hold differing and opposing views is refreshing. Simply being part of the conversation (even as an mere observer) is an experience and brings the listener in, even to the point of wanting to butt in and add comments.

To me, the whole debate is somewhat arbitrary. That isn't to say it isn't important, because it is. But the division between TV/Film/Internet content is beginning to blur and I can only imagine it will continue to do so.

Our micro-budget productions are made for the web and might only ever work there. But when we watch so much TV on the Internet, and while Boxee, Google TV etc are bringing the Internet to our TVs, and while 3D TV will bring cinema-quality films to the living room...in the end is the format, distribution or end-user experience that defines the product?

If it's any consolation you have reached beyond the bubble - I might not be in Des Moines, but I am in a whole different country! :)

PS I added Chris on Facebook because he told me too via this podcast. Such is its power.

This is an amazing resource.
My writing group continues your conversations.
Very relevant.

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New Mediacracy is a casual conversation in the form of an audio podcast about the world of web video featuring industry producers, directors, writers, and other content creators.

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