In late 2009 I began a series of live webcast shows - six to be exact all using the same format (host / hostess, topical discussion, audience interaction, social networking components, etc.) – we had a show on Venture Capitol with people skyping in from each coast (video), we had a "Girl Talk" show, we had a movie review show, we had a biker show and finally even a show on Medical Marijuana. I killed 'em all.
Why? After months of production, countless hours of site building, facebooking, tweeting, etc. they failed to gain any traction. To be fair, the motorcycle show won an Emmy in 2009 (www.kickstarttv.com) and had a small but VERY loyal audience and I only killed it a few months ago after an almost 2.5 year run. The pot show did well, was purchased by a Medical Marijuana magazine in LA – which then ran into financial issues taking www.medicinalmarijuana.tv with it. (I still own the site and name if anybody is interested) BUT – what lessons were learned?
Here's my take on "webisodes" – the VOD stuff has never proven to have any traction, and I believe that's a function of TV guys trying to do the "same ol' same ol'" but using flash instead of a network for distribution. This formula simply CAN'T work – the same way those silly flash "page flipping" versions of newspapers don't work.
Remember DEN (The Digital Entertainment Network) of the late 90s early 00s? Of course not, they produced a series of Animal-House like frat boy shows that came and went so fast they didn't even say goodbye. They did some other stuff that was supposed to be edgy, but came off as simply stupid. Millions in cocaine bills later they folded like a house of cards taking high profile sponsors like Coke (hmmmm?) with them.
Since then – what has been produced by any major media company SPECIFICALLY for internet distribution that has even gotten half the traction of the 2 and 3 minute mash-mashes that hold the number one spots on YouTube? Nada, bubba. If I were Spielberg – I'd run for the latest dark watering hole in Hollywood and start sucking down Margaritas like Warren Zevon on a bad day if anybody even mentioned the term "webisode”. Remember the recent, much ballyhoo-d "Morning Show" on AOL.com called Daybreak? Neither does anyone else. You can't take "TV" and stream it and expect anything to happen in the original space.
Now that we've got Hulu and Netflix – they're both experimenting with original programming, the key difference here being that they both already have huge aggregate audiences – maybe those folks will find their programming interesting in the same way AMC was able to Break Bad. I don't think so, simply because of the difference in viewing habits between Hulu / NF and AMC – people go to watch old TV series on Hulu and current films they got tired of paying Comcast for on Netflix – they're not in "discovery" mode, they already know what they want to watch, and they're most likely going to go directly to that and watch it.
It's all about immediate gratification (of course) so how DO you create original content that web people will find engaging? Got me – I think it's some magic combination of live, talk-radio style programming (a la "The Stream" from our Middle Eastern Media Mavens) plus a dash of social-networking secret-sauce served up on a platter of fresh controversy in a niche-y environment that already has fans but can't find a place to sit at the traditional media table.
If anybody has a couple of million burning a hole in their pocket we can experiment and see what shakes out – if you don't have any money, that's OK too, just show up at the studio around 11pm because I've got an idea for a talk show featuring Vampires. Real, live Vampires. Guaranteed to suck out loud – but it certainly can't be any worse in terms of audience than the current non-original fare being developed by the big kids.