When you put a lot of yourself, your time, and/or your resources into any project it’s only natural for people to wonder what it is you’re hoping to get out of it all in the end. With most ventures the endgame is quite clear. You’re starting a business? You want to make money. You’re writing a novel? You hope to see it published. In the emerging media space into which web series fall, however, the ends aren’t always as obvious, particularly for unknowns like us.
We get a lot of questions like, “So… You’re hoping this gets put on TV?” or “How is it you plan to make money off of this?” Friends, family, and coworkers–well-meaning but unfamiliar with the dynamics of this newer offshoot of “The Industry”–seek answers to these and other questions as justification for the hours their loved-ones spend producing content and promoting themselves online, and not without warrant. After all, putting a series like Nobodies together is a lot of hard work that probably shouldn’t be undertaken without a clear sense of what you’re doing and where it can take you.
Here I’ll briefly explain some of the metrics by which web series success can be measured, as well as provide a few examples, in order to disambiguate our ultimate hopes and dreams for Nobodies. Before I begin, I feel it’s necessary to point out the statistical unlikelihood of any of these outcomes and to cement the notion that, above all, the creation of genuinely-compelling content is both what drives us as artists and what affords us our best opportunity to capture any of these types of success.
Picked up by a network:
As ambitious as it is obvious, but doable. Network TV is an entertainment gold-standard. It’s the Major League for serialized content creators and distributors, and the variety and competitiveness of the network landscape has brought us to a point where there’s as much or more quality programming today than at any time in entertainment history (as well as a whole lot of shit, of course). To keep up with the rest, networks employ people to scour the internet in search of the next “Workaholics.”
“Workaholics,” despite not having started as a web series, stands as a perfect testament to what can happen when the right network person comes across your content online. Of course, the larger your audience the higher the likelihood that this could happen.
Picked up/distributed through another online source:
Online-only content is coming. It’s already here, actually, but immense pressure from the established entertainment giants currently retards the inevitable explosion of this space. Netflix and Hulu are probably the two best-known of these distributors at present, but many less-known sites, some backed by major players, already exist and more are sure to come. These companies have significant resources at their disposal, and act similarly to networks, usually without exerting the same level of control over content creation.
The comedy series about the misadventures of an unwitting teen-wolf, “Wolfpack of Reseda,” inked a deal to be released on Netflix after debuting on Myspace and finding success.
Independent success (you website blows up, you monetize, etc):
The sexiest, and probably least likely, success scenario is to independently gain the critical mass of viewers necessary to monetize your website and continue producing content via the revenue stream that creates. This can sometimes mean forming mutually beneficial relationships with sponsors, who may both pay you in addition to cross-promoting you. The web series “Dorm Life” was successful in this way, landing a sponsorship deal with Carl’s Jr going into their second season.
Leads to other opportunities:
When it’s all said and done a lot of outstanding projects never generate independent revenue or find a home on a network or major online distributor. This is not the end of the road, nor are these the lone determinants of success. Quite often success can mean generating opportunities for those involved in the future. On the acting, directing, writing, producing and other sides, often a web series, seen by enough/the right people, can serve as a stepping stone to better jobs, both commercial and independent. This is certainly the most realistic expectation, as even great material can be difficult to translate to larger networks/venues for multiple reasons, not the least of which being a general unwillingness to take risks in today’s network market. “The Burg” is an example of a show that, despite not being directly picked up or adapted, generated the opportunity for it’s creators to create another series for online content provider Vuguru.
Again, I can’t stress enough the fact that we’re realistic about our odds. If we’re happy, and our viewers–no matter how many end up numbering–are happy with the product we’ve put out there when it’s all said and done, we’ll know we’ve been successful.
For a few more examples of web series success, check out: http://gigaom.com/2011/05/08/web-series-success-stories/