Wednesday, 18 March 2009

HOW TO MAKE A HIT INTERNET SHOW

This is a work-in-progress. It might never be finished. But when I post on a topic around lessons learned from web series which are hits... I'll write them under this heading, and add to the post here.

It'll be messy.

But hopefully it will grow.


The WB can only be viewed in the United States

1. "Make sure your series can be seen everywhere".

There seem to be two schools of thought on how to put your show out on the Net.

One is to put the show in one place. On one site. And to make this the only outlet for your show, forcing the audience to come to your outlet on a regular basis to get more of your show.

The other approach is to get it out in as many places as possible.
To still have a single primary 'home' for the show -- the official place new content will appear. But to upload the show and present it in a way to be seen wherever, by whomever, on as many sites as possible.

I have yet to see a true Internet hit which...
- is geo-blocked
- does not provide or allow embedding
- needs special software to be downloaded to see the show.

If I'm wrong, feel free to put me right on comments below.

The evidence seems to be that if the show is as freely available, and 'pass-on-able' in many places, you're more likely to raise the profile of the 'home site' - the primary content stream.

If this were the 1930's and you made a radio show that you want to be heard by as many people as possible - the equivalent of broadcasting on a low powered transmitter would surely work against the ubiquity which would increase your audience, which in turn might earn you more money?

The broadcasting analogy is poor though -- See chapter: "It should provide a two-way transaction with the audience".

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Here's an addendum to the original post which is now a work-in-progress.
(okay... I just wanted to say the word addendum).

Full 'post' here:-
HOW TO MAKE A HIT INTERNET SHOW

2. Your (hit) show is just one big beta test.
Or "it's not about getting it brilliant first time, that's why it's brilliant".

When I was doing rounds of meetings with legacy media companies immediately after writing on Season 2 of KateModern, I found it very difficult to explain that the best online shows are not perfect when they start out. That's why they're perfect.

And I'd be met with blank stares -- "Why would you want to put out a show any less than perfect?" or, put a different way - "Why would you want your show to admit publicly that your show is flawed?"

But that's not how it works.
And Internet Hits are open and honest about the fact that they are looking for ways to be better.

If the audience can freely comment on the show (see "Comments should be unmoderated(ish)"), two things happen:
Fans feel they have invested a tiny bit of work in the show, so they are more likely to come back; and secondly... the show gets better as a result of that constant feedback.


"But why would you allow your audience to be able to tell you that your show sucks?"

Legacy media organisations are used to their content being as "perfect as it can be at time of release". Radio, Film, Television, Print - it's all about getting it 'right' before it goes out.
Even live tv and radio generally has a format or running order or slot to run within.

Online, good online, doesn't work that way.

So I found myself once again stumbling to explain that - "starting a show, it doesn't have to be good, but it does have to allow an audience to comment freely on it" - this time in a meeting with Dave Castell at Tough Cookie.

And for the first time, wasn't met with a blank stare.
He really got into the idea, but because of his web background managed to explain it with a phrase I now use for the process:-

DAVE: "Yeah, - you mean you're beta testing the show.

ME: Huh?

DAVE: It's something software developers do, isn't it. Because noone releases software in a finished state, do they. They beta test it - they release it as a beta, and say to the users 'we think this is good, but have a try and say if we can make it any better'.

ME: Oh yeah.

That's how Internet Hits work.

They evolve around the discussions in the community around the show. But the community also keeps coming back, because there is a place to discuss the show.
All comments are good comments.

As a writer... this is... What's the word. Terrifying.
The same people who can comment "I LOVED it when Charlie said 'xxxxxxx'", are also free to say something less kind.
But it really helps with the sense of shared journey.

We were convinced the 'fans' would hate the new character, Toe. It was based on a laugh with Sam Donovan, the actor who played Lee. There's no way we thought we could even shoot Sam playing his twin brother in episodes which rely on being played out in one shot, let alone anyone enjoying his arrival. But we gave it a try, and the fan reaction meant we even sent him off for the Paris episodes.


(The Family Phillips, written by Lawrence Tallis - storyline by Lawrence Tallis, Luke Hyams & Neil Mossey)

This leads to a couple more suggestions for Internet Hits - which should be new chapters:

- Make sure your show is unmoderated.
Generally on KateModern, anyone could say anything under the videos. The only comment moderation that took place was generally for legal, or 'taste and decency' reasons. This meant that whole new discussions would take place amongst the fans - the show then has life beyond the content we have produced.

- It's not about how many hits or views you get on release.
Again, difficult to explain to legacy media companies, used to judginig hits on overnight ratings, RAJAR figures, Saturday's circulation, or opening weekend box office receipts.

There's only one direction your hit counter will go, and that is up.

The only thing you can do as Producer, is work out how you can make that hit count go up more quickly over time, rather than measuring a show on what it's doing this week.


Sorry for the lack of pictures... will have to hunt some down to jazz this up.

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Don't know where exactly, but this would fall somewhere in the ever-growing "How To Make A Hit Internet Show".

It's a response to an excellent article written by Bill Thompson on bbc.co.uk about online regulation.
There are often moments during the widespread adoption of transformative technologies where an old way of thinking or doing business is so threatened by the new possibilities that its adherents call on those with political power to "Do Something!"
It never works.

If the music industry had spent more time thinking of ways to deliver great music to its customers over the internet and less lobbying politicians and suing potential customers it would probably be thriving by now.

Book publishers, less certain of their own importance, are taking notice of the exciting experiments at Faber & Faber and Penguin instead of looking for protectionist legislation to keep the new media world at bay.
The full article is here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7644849.stm

And these are extracts from an email I sent.
###
Since December last year, I was on the writing team for an online drama called katemodern.

You may have heard of it -- it was, apparently, the first online drama made in the UK, and one of the first in the world (certainly in the UK) to embed itself on a social networking website (bebo)
www.bebo.com/katemodern
and was the UK spinoff of the American online phenomenon lonelygirl15.

katemodern got 61 million video hits, and 6 million profile views on bebo.
The show ended this summer as scheduled - sorry, bear with me, there is a point to this email! - and I now give talks to and consult for [large and small] media organisations.


It feels as if I was hurled on an exponential learning curve, and am now try to bring others up to speed on what I glimpsed writing 70 odd episodes, (storylining 140 odd episodes), as to the potential of interactive drama - while you're making it along with your audience interacting with and commenting on it.

The way I try to explain it is that it feels like working in television drama in 1950.

"Everyone is trying to think of it, and critique it, and work in it, as if they are radio drama producers.
But it's not radio, it's television. But we dont know what the medium can yet fully achieve! We just know it's not radio, theatre, or cinema."


Anyway - wanted to share this story with you.
This is a blog devoted to the show lonelygirl15, it's called lg15today
http://lg15today.blogspot.com

It's written and maintained by fans of the show.

Have a look at this article from a couple of weeks ago.
http://lg15today.blogspot.com/2008/09/note-about-removal-of-video.html
Note About Removal of Video
Due to it's use of nudity and adult themes, a video was removed from the blog by myself after a lengthy discussion with community members and a consensus that this was the proper action to take. The author of the post has been contacted and informed of the removal and why it occurred. Anyone wishing to discuss the matter further can contact me at xxxxxxxx@xxxxxx
or can PM me in IRC.
Thank you!


-- I read some of the comments, and apparently, the post didn't have a harmful intention behind it. That's not what's interesting.

What's interesting, for me, is the *the community* decided it wasn't right for lg15today.

lg15today's *audience* decided it wasn't appropriate.

Not the makers of lonelygirl15,
Not the authors of lg15today.blogspot.com
Not the company that hosts the blog,
Nor even the ISP.


*The Audience*, *The Community* decided it would be best to take it down.
For the first time, we have a medium which allows *the audience* to moderate content.

To flag up and vote down the inappropriate.
To decide amongst ourselves (as an audience) what is safe and appropriate and what we would like to be associated with.


As an audience, we're not quite ready for what exactly that means.
But we're all learning. And becoming more 'literate' and experienced audiences.


It's a fascinating time out there, as content adapts to the technology.
And even more fascinating as we, the audience, adapt the content to fit what we as a society feel is best.




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4. The phrase "WEB TV" sucks.



Here's a thought - just putting it out there.

(DEEP BREATH)
There seems to be no general consensus on an accepted term for the genre of content that's being described as online show, web show, web series, online series, online drama, online comedy, online (insert genre here), digi novel or diginovel, webisodes, social shows, Internet narratives, social media series and many many more...
- you can probably suggest some more terms floating out there in COMMENTS below.

But there's one term that is really bugging me. And I find it very difficult to use it on this site.


WEB TV.

Web TV.

webtv.

The problem is, - it does actually instantly convey what a show is.

It's the most understandable of all the terms, and yet there's something about it that doesn't feel right.




In the 1950's, we didn't instantly backdate the new medium of television by calling it VisionRadio. Though that is pretty much what TV is, technically.

But the content, - the CONTENT - of TV managed to develop beyond "recording a radio series in a television studio". Genres evolved in ways that can only exist on television.


So what to do with WEB TV.

There are shows which properly describe themselves as Web TV.

They are TV shows "broadcast" on the web.
Or short films, broken up and uploaded to the web.


But if you have a stream of content (even if it is mostly video, and episodic), and are trying to build a community, and a 2-way relationship with the audience...

...Do you really want to hobble your show with the phrase "Web TV"?

Aren't you attempting to create something beyond TV?


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5. What choices do you make when creating an online series?



Attended a forum held at BAFTA organised by NyAC in October 2009, where Producer Phil Parker chaired with a very simple question...


With which key issues do you struggle when creating online interactive narratives?


It's a good question for any web show creators.

Here's my response -- feel free to add your own in COMMENTS below!


DYNAMIC UNIVERSES - the choices made when writing an Online Show?

TALE OF TWO NARRATIVES
- HOLDING THE FAN'S HAND?
Linear roll-out of story/narrative developments, in easily understandable guided sequences
or
- JOY OF DISCOVERY (MYSTERY, BROKEN NARRATIVE)?
Do you put content out there, for fan to engage by pieceing together aspects of story from what they find -- fans help each other out in comments, forums, wikis etc. alongside the creator's stream of content?


TIME, SPACE & DIMENSION
- single closed, completed narrative - using the internet as a TV transmission mast
(e.g. Clark & Michael, We Tell Stories)
or
- "live show" = open,ongoing narrative played out in real time
(e.g. lonelygirl15, katemodern)
or
- Mini closed narratives, with "live" ongoing communities around the writer, or performers
(e.g. The Guild, Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog)


FANS AS AUDIENCE,
or EVERYONE AS FANS?

Technology allows Everyone to comment on Everything.
Is that conversation encouraged by 'the show', or even acknowledged by the characters?


COMMUNITIES
- Controlled mothership ("Protect the brand!", geoblocking),
or
free-for-all?
i.e. 'Do you try to drive everyone to your home site, or do you put everything everywhere'


'HONESTY'
The two extremes:
- Having a backstage area which isn't on view to the public
or
- Putting *everything* out there - storyboards on youtube, works in progress scripts, behind the scenes blogs
= Hugh McLeod wrote his book 'How To Be Creative' on his blog, and it has been freely available for years. It hasn't had a negative impact on sales, if anything, is acting as years and years of pre-publicity.


FUNDING AFFECTING THE CREATOR'S CONTENT
- Sense of Community - paypal tip jar to pay for the next series
- or Micropayments, Advertising/Sponsorship,
- or selling 'containers' - DVD's, Live shows, Live screenings, Music tracks, Books
- or all these options


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6 comments:

clarson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joel Bryant said...

Love this article!
Thanks for supporting web television and online entertainment.

(You know what would be awesome? To see "After Judgment" [www.afterjudgment.com] listed among your Online Drama Series. It's nominated for 6 Streamy Awards, including "Best Dramatic Web Series" and the "Audience Choice Award." It's going up against productions like "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Guild," but really I think we're all winners as long as folks are watching!)

Thanks!

JOEL

storygas said...

Hello

Deleted that first comment because it looked like spam - and the link didn't work - feel free to get in touch again if I'm mistaken.

And hi Joel!
Good luck with the Streamys tonight, and definitely hope to link to After Judgment asap.

cittiecait said...

Hey Neil,
just in connection to this if you'd like to read my Masters thesis on the Marketing strategies of internet serial dramas contact me at caitnimhuris@hotmail.com and i can forward you a copy. has lots of interesting details from EQAL and Craic Addict Films

Zoey said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Dr. Horrible "geo-block" their show and not provide/allow embedding? That's a huge internet hit...

StoryGas said...

Hey Zoey

- Excellent point, - but aren't there 3 elements which might be counted as exceptions that might prove the rule???

1. Wasn't Dr. Horrible made available completely free for a period before being 'DVD'/itunes

2. and that version of the show wasn't geoblocked (I thought I could see it outside the US)

2 and a half. Sections of the show which are made available unofficially haven't been stomped on/removed (yet) - which continues to contribute to helping new viewers come to it?
(you can pretty much see the show - not easily, but easier than geoblocked/unembedded shows)

but the biggest, (and probably wooliest for my theory(!))

3. The community around Dr. Horrible started long long long before Dr. Horrible. It's a community based around the stream of Joss Whedon content.
(Which, yes, up until Dr. H. was trad legacy geoblocked old fashioned tv).

Apologies if any of the above is incorrect, and the theory is wobbly....

But if the above is true, then enough of it is out there to be passed on, and the community is free and open in a way that some so-called web series are not...?

Help?!