Best Web Series of 2014: The Impression Guys by Soul Pancake

“The Impression Guys” is the best online-video series of 2014. Get a bowl of oatmeal, pull out your phone, and check it out. So far episode one and episode two have launched, and new episodes are each Monday.

It’s produced by Soul Pancake, which was founded by Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office). It also features Angela Kinsey (who was Angela Martin in The Office), and this week’s episode (number 2) featured Matt Jones from Breaking Bad.

Jim Meskimen and Ross Marquand play tortured optimists who are trying to shift from impressionism to character acting.
Jim Meskimen and Ross Marquand play tortured optimists who are trying to shift from impressionism to character acting.

But the duo that carries the series so far is Jim Meskimen (playing Jim Marshall) and Ross Marquand (as Ross Marvin). Long-time readers of WVFF will know I’ve had a long-time creative crush on Meskimen, who is the voice behind the infamous JibJab cartoons. He’s a masterful impressionist who also is a really sweet guy. His mom is Marion Ross, who played Marion Cunningham.

Meskimen admits a lot of it is improv, but credits the success to “Impressionist Guys” writer and creator Ben Shelton, who also does The Flipside series for SoulPancake. “He runs a really happy set, has a great crew and makes the most of what has to be the smallest budget in television,” Meskimen told me.

SoulPancake also is living up to the “soul” in its name. Says Jim about SP, “their flow is positive and re-affirming… not edgy.”

Anyway, here’s the fun of the series. You’ll first dismiss it as an excuse to stitch together some very good impressions by Meskimen, Marquand and others. But if you give it time, you’ll realize there’s a depth to the characters and a compelling storyline. Some vulnerability that you don’t see coming.

Give it a watch. Let me know what you think!

Episode 1: Premier

Episode 2: The Worst Impression

 

Can The Mutant-Child of Cable & Web Video Survive? Seven Magic Tricks.

shark that wants to eat daisy whitney's poodle violet

Television networks have had no more luck spawning, popularizing, or learning from online-video content than newspapers have had increasing circulation in recent years. But Fox 15 Gig has caught some online-video gurus’ attention, and UncleNalts has 7 magic tricks for you television and cable mavens who dare enter the shark-infested viral online-video watery… thing.

The people have chosen. We are magnetically polarized to opposite ends of the content-duration spectrum: short-form content by amateur solo-acts or a lucky few over-produced television series. The mutated child of this man-beast marriage is not socializing well at school. But I’m here to help.

Seems Daisy Whitney (in this week’s New Media Minute) thinks Fox’s 15 Gigs (which launched quietly in the summer) has a fighting chance. Watch her video to find out why. Or trust me for a summary. Or just shut-up and watch last week’s episode because she had a totally hawt guest).

Daisy Whitney's Killer French Poodle

  1. She digs Black20, the creators of “Easter Bunny Hates You” (which I shamelessly plagiarized in my Mad Turkey, but resisted rerunning this season).
  2. She believes 15 Gigs is “learning from the mistakes” and has an advantage of not being a first-mover like ABC and HBO’s failed attempts.
  3. Most importantly, she likes the concept of testing low-cost production online (sometimes less expensive than a script) before investing in television.
  4. She loves violet her French poodle Violet and is uncomfortable with its photo so close to that shark.

Adam Right of TubeFilter.tv has some additional positive thoughts on 15 Giga (the studio was named, perhaps, with either homage or dis to the phrase “15 minutes of fame”). 15 Giga is spawned from Fox’s cable production arm, Fox Television Studios, which is best known for The Shield and Burn Notice (which I purchased in its entirety on iTunes). Adam Right, like Whitney and her poodle, sees this as a “different approach to creating a new media branch with 15 Gigs.” The difference, says Adam, is:

  • going edgier than television (see puppets using cocaine and smoking)
  • giving producers room
  • looking at ways to leverage interactivity of web
  • focusing on moving web series to television (which seems somewhat in conflict to point one)
  • keeping production costs down ($5-$20K per series)

Thank you, Daisy and Adam. You’ve tasted the Kool-aid and I’ll watch to see if you die before I have a sip. Now it’s UncleNalts’ turn… Web series aren’t working yet. Maybe 15 Gigs will crack the code, but it’s a dry market, girlfriend. Do you mind if I call you that? It doesn’t sound gay does it?

monkey and manAs I’ve said: In something that’s perhaps counter intuitive, people magnetically shift to opposite ends of the content-duration spectrum. The hybrid mutation is neither as satisfying as a 30-60 minute show or as personalized as a virtual-BFF (best friend forever) on YouTube. (Man I should get paid to blog… this is poetry). I loved The Guild but I forget about it during gaps… and for reasons I can’t explain I haven’t caught up. I watch maybe 6-12 shows television shows weekly and countless online-videos… but almost no web series. You can’t argue that they’re not part of our media-consumption habit yet (but in the tips below, I’ll tell you when that will change… so stay alert despite the snow falling over my words).

So here’s some free advice — step right up and taste the magic potion — for those cable/network peeps brave enough to dare to tap into serialized web shows. These magical seven tips will help you with your mutant content or your money back the next time I pass through Passamaquati.

  1. Speed up your editing cadence to border-line mania. Those music-laden dramatic television transitions and rack focuses of NYC cabs are begging the audience to ditch when they’re “leaning forward” watching web content. Think Fawlty Towers, Basil-like speed. Take a 10 minute script and force it into 5 minutes. Then the pregnant pauses will have ball-busting impact. The first 10 seconds must grab them, and suck them in. Hold onto their attention like they’re an over-caffeinated Chihuahua with ADHD. Because we, I mean “they,” are.
  2. Hedge your bets and hyper-niche. Go for volume… lots of shows so many can fail. Fail, fail, fail. I’ve done it 800 times. A few stuck. More importantly, instead of marketing them widely appeal to audiences, focus on really niche audiences who will share them. For instance, a well-produced show about a restaurant staff will probably travel among those who are working (or have worked) at a restaurant… Go super narrow. You’ll need a rabid inner circle of fans to survive the next tip.
  3. BFF the ardent fans. Web series simply lack the personal interaction that is felt when someone watches a favorite vlogger talk to them, pull a stunt or even do a skit. The characters in web series often talk at each other, and forget me. Hey- I’m watching… are you an actor or a real person? So please add some interactivity via technology, but more importantly break the wall down between the actors and the hardcore fans. No I’m not talking about a f’ing scripted character Twitter profile. I’m not talking about interactive “chose your own adventure.” I’m talking about the actual actors (sorry- not the writers) engaging with the fans directly in comments. I promise you this: one personal touch between a creator/actor and a single audience member and you’ve got a loyal fan who will tell 21.2-52.7 people about the show. I promise.
  4. snake oil naltsSuffer through Routinely Popular Online-Video Personalities or YouTube Partners. I know it makes you insane to see amateurs gain huge audiences for videos that are significantly worse than yours. But endure it and learn from it. Watch the most popular people and daily videos and rather than groan, ask “what is this clown doing that we can replicate.” Be selective about what you mimic, of course, because most of my crap has no business on television. But a lot can be learned from watching what’s gathering a crowd today. Don’t get distracted by one-hit wonders… watch the people that keep an active fan base over time.
  5. Collaborate. Get the characters of a web series into other popular shows (and give prominent web personalities cameos). That’s how YouTube stars are discovered, and it’s how many classic television shows were spawned. iChannel did this with me, and The Retarded Policeman exploded when it started giving cameos to the most-subscribed talent on YouTube. I want to see someone from Glee show up in The Office… I’ll get chills.
  6. Drink Your Prune Juice. You’ve got to be regular. I’ve fallen recently on YouTube because I’m not posting videos as frequently. People gravitate toward content that has daily uploads… they build it into their day. If you can be predictable as posting at a specific hour, it’s even better. Remember when we’d all wait for ZeFrank to post? Yeah neither do I. Sorry but a week is simply too long for web series… daily is ideal and not more than 2 days.
  7. Persist. This is going to get a whole lot easier when we can conveniently stream web content from our televisions, and that’s happening as we speak. I believe this transition will remove the biggest barrier to serialized web content — because we have fundamentally different expectations of storytelling in various mediums. Soon our nightly ritual might be trading 30 minutes of television-viewing for 5 niche mini-shows. And if the people and stories of each episode cross over into another show… that’s drama, friends.

Now go print this out on your Ink Jet, and Scotch tape it to your wall or someone else’s. Because we both know that everything that happens to you in the next 6 months will make you forget this list.

Small & Easy Camcorder for $89

Woot.com (a bargain site) is listing the Pure Digital Flip Ultra Series F260 $89 plus shipping. It’s a good buy if you need an affordable, portable video camera. These won’t give you great resolution, but they’re small and sufficient for most online-video. More importantly, they’re very easy to use — from shooting to drag/drop to desktop for uploading. I like hiding them in a paper cup (with a small hole) as a hidden camera.

Just try not to have too much movement when you record. I have a few of these floating around for moments where I need a quick shot or vlog. My recent rant about the Mac Shuffle used one, although it was a more recent model.

Pure Digital Flip Ultra Series f260 camcorder

Example of me using the newer generation Flip (pretty close to what you’ll get), while I whine about the Mac Shuffle:

HBO Web Series “Hooking Up” to Star Popular YouTubers

Lonelygirl15 and naltsI’m just so glad this cat’s out of the bag, so I can officially boast that I used LonelyGirl15’s Visine in the dressing room. Too bad the set was closed to cameras. In one of those moments I wish I had on tape, I had to ask the star of LonelyGirl15 what we should call her, because I couldn’t remember if Jessica was her real name or stage name.

Says the Hollywood Reporter about the HBO Labs web series debuting October 1, “”Hooking Up” could prove groundbreaking for the nascent webisode genre by amassing a sizable viewership, given its aggregation of Internet personalities who can promote the production to their devoted audiences of millions of young viewers.

Tilzy called it “a small scale Ocean’s 11 for the YouTube set.” I don’t know what I’m allowed to say or not say about this production, so I’ll keep it safe and say that some of the people that work for HBOLabs are so cute and talented I’d buy McDonald Happy Meal toys of their likeness. And this post is not a McDonalds or Visine promotion anymore than yesterday’s Twinkie post. I got contacted last night by a Forbes.com guy writing about sponsored blog posts, and I groaned at the thought that anyone would think my pop culture references have backdoor incentives. Ewww!

YouTubers of the HBO web series include whatthebuckshow, sxephil, lonelygirl15, kevjumba, charlestrippy, smpfilms and nalts. Honestly I thought I was an extra, until I was walking off the set and I saw some people I didn’t know. “They’re extras,” someone explained.

And for the record, this isn’t the first time all of us have been scripted. In a grade school production of The Wizard of Oz, I was the soldier that leaned over upon the dying Wicked Witch of the West and said, “she’s dead… you’ve killed her.”

“Hooking Up,” by the folks who brought you RunAway Box, can be seen at www.hookingupshow.com or www.hbolab.com. The YouTube channel is here. See more coverage of the series in The Huffington Post, Tilzy, TechRadar, and Silicon Alley Insider. NewTeeVee is the only publication that didn’t bury its lead (Chris Albrecht used my name in the headline a opposed to “the show also included…”). Hee hee.

What do you think? Do Jessica (LonelyGirl15) and Sxephil have chemistry?

Why Media Buyers Are Stunting the Growth of Online Video

Balding white marketer desperately wants to meet smart, strategic media buyer. If you’re one, please recognize you’re not the target of this rant. But the rest of  you are just so friggin’ short sighted and clueless.

There are some amazing online-video series that could be incredible opportunities for smart brands wanting to engage with early adopters of a medium that is changing the way we relate to content and brands.

Brands can reach depth and relevancy with their target, even if it’s not driving total significant awareness and immediately creating ROI through driving intent, store visits, and trial.

I give you exhibit one. iChannel.  A mere 8000 people are subscribed to this series on YouTube, but the views of the weekly series are roughly three times that (I’m the inverse of that with 30,000 Nalts subscribers, but some recent videos ranging in the 8-15K views). So it’s a healthy and highly devoted and interactive audience. Episode 31 had 180K views alone.

And it’s deeply philosophical, well acted, intelligently scripted and short and addictive.  I had the pleasure of appearing in one last May.

These guys spend more time setting up one shot than I do on my entire post production. The audience is like a microcosm of those watching Lost. Or The Office. They’re engaged, passionate, and hold their breath waiting for the next episode.

So why would a media buyer pass on this?

  • It’s not a big media deal. No hot AOL ad reps are pushing it.
  • The audience isn’t big enough. No scale yet.
  • The conversion from the episode to a bloated brand microsite wouldn’t be great.
  • They can just advertise on YouTube’s invideo ads and get there.

Why should an electronic manufacturer dye to have sole sponsorship?

  • They could probably own it for the equivalent of pocket change they dug from the back of their marketing budget couch.
  • It would be ground breaking.
  • The audience is perfect, and the level of product engagement would be far richer than an ad we’re trained to ignore.
  • It sets the stage for a new model where advertisers contract directly with creators of content (who carry fixed audiences). No worthless intermediaries clogging the pipes between.

What’s the solution to grabbing these types of opportunities? Have these deals championed by someone outside the regular media-buying job. While I was at Johnson & Johnson, the big deals between media players (networks and magazines) were done by folks that weren’t inline marketers like me, but had influence over the way media budgets were set across the many brands. After all, J&J couldn’t get interesting deals if each brand fended for itself, and the interesting partnerships required someone that could step outside the short-sighted world I live in when charged with P&L of a brand.