Why Webisodes Don’t Work (Yet)

Webisodes. A nice concept that’s ahead of its time. The idea is that we tell a longer story in “chunks,” and each short video clip (not to exceed 3-5 minutes) has the story progressing.

Many experiments have failed. Eventually Webisodes will bridge the chasm between “lean back” television viewing and “lean forward” Internet viewing.

But not yet. Why?

  1. Right now the online video appetite is for short isolated moments of humor and stupidity. Here’s a new example- two guys racing through a library in box cars. People haven’t yet developed a habit for finding, consuming and returning to a threaded storyline online.
  2. There isn’t yet a proven distribution channel for webisodes. Eventually Yahoo, AOL, Google or other online media players will syndicate webisodes and give them a few primary channels. Just like iTunes paved a path for podcasts, someone will develop an audience interested in stories told in short-form series. Recent deals between studios and online properties will accelerate this. But right now each webisode has to find its own audience. That’s tough.
  3. We still have some legal issues. Studios maintain they’re promotional tools and don’t pay residuals to talent. The Writers Guild of America begs to differ. For more check out this Newsweek articleabout how NBC Universal is canning the 10 Battlestar Galactica webisodes it had “in the can.”

So what’s a short term approach?

  1. Use webisodes to promote the television show, and pay writers and actors accordingly. The Office got “word of mouth” buzz before season three by introducing a short plot line through web episodes. I’m not linking to it, because the promoters never sent me the Dwight Bobblehead they promised in exchange for my ads on CubeBreak.
  2. Networks need to partner with online properties to set a platform for these. None of us will remember to visit unique URLs, but if Yahoo syndicated a series of webisodes we’d probably make it part of our morning/evening routine.
  3. The networks need to publicize webisodes as part of their programming. Shows could conclude with a “call to action” that sends viewers to see out takes or alternative endings. Synergy, baby.
  4. Find content creators that are already adept at short-form content and give them a new vehicle. Start with humorous Vloggers. ZeFrank and MediaMoGirlare good examples. They’ll eventually land syndication deals with online media players, and can cut good deals because their costs are extremely low relative to offline media players with huge overhead.

Some film makers have debuted films via web by “chunking” the storyline into webisodes. Example: Sam Has Seven Friends. I maintain that this will eventually be viable. But the trick is to start with the 3-5 minute framework and tell the story accordingly. It’s very difficult to retroactively adapt long-form content and break it into webisodes that compel the viewer to return for the next one.

7 Replies to “Why Webisodes Don’t Work (Yet)”

  1. That BSG link was really interesting…especially this part

    “The stakes are huge: viewers streamed “Battlestar” Webisodes 5.5 million times last month, doubling traffic to SciFi.com within two days of the premiere. By comparison, 2.2 million people showed up for the show’s third-season opener on Oct. 6″

    This is obviously rough math but to me this suggests that well over half the audience are watching BSG via something like Bittorrent.

  2. I think there’s some early evidence that webisodes work, but the success seems to cater to the creatives as much as the audience…

    Channel 101 is a good example – compete with a good pilot, continue to compete if you get “voted in” to be a series.

    House of Cosbys is one of my favorite online series. You have to search for it since Bill’s legal machine made them take it down… very sad.

    In the late 90’s I was shooting video in a studio that also rented the studio to a production company producing an online soap opera… it didn’t fly. Back then we speculated it was because the quality of streaming video was terrible… probably not the case.

  3. PC – I think I remember that soap – it was called “The Spot” and it also featured some awesome product placement. One of the characters worked at SONY Pictures ( a sponsor), another drove a Honda or a Toyota, I forget which, that was also a sponsor.

    The story line was lame too – 5 or 6 twnetysomethings sharing a Malibu beach house.

    Webisodes may still catch on – in this ever changing environment never say never!

  4. YES that’s it. I couldn’t remember the name… I think they were trying to fund it completely through product placement.

  5. There’s a web series called Sam has Seven Friends which is available on Revver. The big thing about is that on December 15, one of these friends will kill her. I don’t know if it will be a hit, but 40 webisodes have been made.

  6. That’s the one I was trying to find. I watched about 20 videos hoping to see the ad… cool concept. Wonder if anyone’s watching.

Comments are closed.