There are plenty of cheery forecast out there for the growth of web video. The truth is the state of online video is bleak.
The cold, hard truth is there’s barely anything worth watching online. Lets be clear: what I’m particularly interested in is a successful video series. There are YouTube celebs who draw an audience. That’s just not enough. Audience scale isn’t the same as quality content. Millions of people watch “Skateboarding Dog” — 15 million views so far! — and there’s no shortage of sports bloopers that reliably draw huge views. Tweens flock to watch Fred’s latest videos. That’s great. What advertisers want are scripted series with sizable, regular audiences.
Good luck finding them on the web. TubeMogul aggregated the audiences of 50 web series and then tracked those audiences over eight episodes. The first episodes totaled more than 25 million views. By the second episodes, total views were just nine million. More than half of the audiences didn’t come back for a second episode. By weeks six and seven, those 25 million views were down to fewer than 5 million. That’s a glaring testament to the lack of quality in online video production.
Clicker, a great resource for finding online video content. lists under “web orignals” the top three results “Status Kill,” “The Crew,” and “Goodie Bag.” An informal survey of online advertising execs turned up a brand recognition of ZERO. That ain’t good. There were only three episodes of “Status” created, which totaled fewer than a million total views. Using some back-of-the-envelope math, that’s a little more than 300,000 views per episode. By TV standards, that’s a downright awful audience. “Status Kill” isn’t terrible. It’s got a high production value, a cheeky story mocking the social media world. Great. Search on Twitter for buzz about “Status Kill.” Crickets.
“The Crew” didn’t fare much better. It streamed 15 episodes over two seasons. On YouTube, the first episode has a total of 12,279 views. That’s good enough for the top of the Clicker charts? “The Guild” is an exception. It continues to be the top web series as far as I can tell, drawing over 400,000 views per episode on YouTube. Felicia Day is probably the web’s most recognizable star, and deserving of the accolades she’s won. I’m hard pressed to find many in its league.
Let’s turn for a brief moment to branded entertainment, a veritable chamber of horrors to the entire craft. There are exceptions when brands ink big-name talent, like “Easy to Assemble,”in its second season for IKEA. It has big-name stars like Justine Bateman and Ed Begley, Jr., and “Web Therapy” from Lexus’ L Studios with Lisa Kudrow. But for every success story, there’s dozens of failed attempts, big star power or not.
The great promise of the web for creators — the democratization of distribution — seems to be its undoing when it comes to web video. The best content on the web, it turns out, is from TV. There hasn’t been a “Lonely Girl” since, well, Lonely Girl. The creators of Lonely Girl gave up on creating original web series in favor of doing brand work. Hardly a ringing endorsement for a nascent creative medium.
The web might never have its “I Love Lucy moment,” as Lloyd Braun put it. A good show is hard to create week in and week out. Everyone in NYC feels like they could have written Seinfeld or Friends. And they probably could bang out a few decent episodes. It takes real talent to write 24 episodes a year for 10 years. The talent needed to do that, for the most part, is still writing for TV. Until that changes, the web will always be an afterthought as a source of quality, original video content.