The Secrets to Yahoo’s Web Series Success

When people look for Web video’s breakout hit, they tend to fall back on scripted series. After all that’s what drove TV’s rise. But it turns out the hits online might be different.

Take Yahoo. The much-maligned portal has nine of ComScore’s top 10 original online programs under its purple Yahoo Studios banner, with nearly 24 million unique viewers per month. It’s a diverse list, but one thing holds the shows together: they’re not scripted. Instead,  they’re a mix of offbeat news clips, social trends and fantasy sports.

Who Knew?” on Yahoo News recently streamed its 300th episode, all sponsored by Toyota. Wrapped in Toyota banner ads and starting with a seven-second bumper, “Who Knew?” is a bite-size bit of not-quite-news that reached more than 2.3 million unique viewers last month, which only put it in the  No. 8 spot of the Top 10 original online programs. It is professionally produced by Yahoo and Reveille Productions, with quick cuts and motion graphics that is a near-perfect template for video snacking.

Sitting squarely in the middle of the Top 10 is another Yahoo News show, “Trending Now,” which covers the latest trending topics on Twitter. Similar in format to “Who Knew?,” “Trending Now” is another drive-by video series that gives you just enough information if you get trapped in an elevator or stuck on a bad date. The tweet-sized stories are a good blend of news, pop culture and Internet memes — ideal for video snackers, trend followers and social media addicts. It attracts more than 4 million unique users per month. Where else would you find out that the White House was Rickrolling participants in a Twitter Q&A about the debt ceiling?

Perched on top of the Top 10 with 7.7 million unique monthly views is “omg! NOW,” Yahoo Studio’s celebrity, pop culture and entertainment show. With more than 180 million unique users, it doesn’t seem all that daunting a task for Yahoo to pull 5 percent of that audience in to a pop culture show. But that shouldn’t be held against Yahoo. Launched in February, “omg!NOW” is a compilation of celebrity news delivered in less than two minutes and has become the Web’s most popular entertainment show. “omg! NOW” provides Hollywood-gossip seekers more than enough content to waste a few hours with, as proven by Yahoo Studio’s 69 million minutes of video consumed in June, and Prime Time in No Time surpassing 500 million streams.

Lest you think that Yahoo is focused only on pop culture, it also hosts the Web’s most popular finance show, Daily Ticker, as well as sports shows “Yahoo Sports Minute” and, my personal favorite, “Fantasy Football Live,” which bucks the trend of video snacking in favor of a live hour of fantasy football experts and audience call-ins.

What does Yahoo know that others don’t? Maybe not that much because what it has is massive reach. It has a large enough audience to slice and dice to create programming in broad enough vertical categories like sports, finance and entertainment to appeal to big brand advertisers and can drive enough eyeballs to make it worth the effort.

Where does that leave original scripted series on the Web? Seemingly everywhere else, but not on Yahoo. When you have a formula that works for both the audience and the advertiser, why not stick with it? My search for an original scripted Web series continues, but Yahoo reigns supreme, for now, in creating high-quality video content that audiences eat up and advertisers can’t get enough of.

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