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Toward a History of the Web Series (Market) April 5, 2010

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Screengrabs of the homepage for American Cybercast, a late nighties web show network (orange outline mine)

I’ve been researching for an article on web programming, and I’ve found tons of interesting gems! I’d already known “webisodic programming” had dated back to 1995, and I’m well aware the Internet repeats itself. But what old newspaper and trade press articles suggest is just how similar to today the rhetoric around web content was 15 years ago.

Does anyone remember American Cybercast?

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Lady Gaga’s ‘Telephone:’ Product Placement and Corporate Anxiety March 15, 2010

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Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” is an attempt to bring back the music video, or, to make music videos “big” again, after years of seclusion from TV but tremendous popularity on YouTube. It’s not genius idea, of course. Talk to any production company in Los Angeles making music videos, and you’ll hear numerous filmmakers lamenting their hard work languishing with 50,000 hits, lagging behind kittens, babies, dancing amateurs, etc.

Still, “Telephone,” like everything else from Gaga, is big (click here for Madison Moore‘s “best of ‘Telephone'” list). But, as other blogs have pointed out, big costs money!

Lady Gaga raised music video product placement to a grotesque degree, solidifying her role as our camp consumerist icon in the same way MJ and Madonna served as postmodern icons in their early years. Gaga gets the money and icon-status; brands get, well, I’m not sure.

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Graduating from YouTube Hard Without Big Media Support February 3, 2010

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Increasingly as the supply of content online rises, getting your work and/or yourself noticed is a major challenge.

Graduating from a site like YouTube, even after gaining a high profile, is even more difficult. Suddenly producers find they can’t push their products/themselves alone. They need the big media.

The big media wasn’t there for out YouTube star William Sledd.

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“Valemont” Wants Your Blood November 10, 2009

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UPDATE (11/29): MTV screened Valemont today at 6PM and the series is in talks for a possible second season produced for television.

ORIGINAL: I’ve been very busy with researching, freelancing, curating, etc. and really I haven’t had much time to sit down and enjoy any of the media I study. With that, instead of going to bed at a decent hour tonight, I opted to get caught up on MTV and Electric Farm Entertainment’s Valemont, which I’d written about for BusinessWeek last month. Turns out there’s a simple method to Electric Farm’s success: they know how to tell a good story. (The company has a record most web series producers would envy: Afterworld, Gemini Division, and Woke Up Dead were all pretty largescale productions by web show standards and each a hit in its own right.)

Valemont is a fascinating beast of a web series, because it’s got so much going on! (more…)

The Web Series Market: Research, Stage One November 7, 2009

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So at this point I’ve conducted around two dozen interviews with nearly thirty individuals working in the market for original (mostly scripted) web shows. It’s been fun! I still have much more to learn, but, being an academic, have already started writing. It’s what we do.

Here is the first full paper I’ve written on the topic. It’s pretty broad. The main point was to try and pinpoint how people talk about what web series mean and are for. Why make a series for an online audience? What makes it different from television or film? This essay is my attempt to put all those questions under one umbrella, while adding in some observations from the history of media (especially radio, surprisingly).

This is still a work in progress, so, as always, I very much appreciate comments, criticism, feedback, information, and even shameless plugs. Although I work at a university, I am far from all-knowing, and, in an area this new and constantly developing, I’m always missing things, sometimes really big things.

The paper is online here. Below is the title and abstract.

The Connection Industry: Making and Marketing Web Series

The ideal driving the making and marketing of original web series, however diversely produced and distributed, is quite consistent: connection. Producers – individual or corporate – want to connect with viewers, woo them to invest emotionally or intellectually in narratives or formats. Alongside quixotic personal investments and new age marketing speak, the aim is, chiefly, capital: money, notoriety, cultural significance or awareness of a personal or corporate brand. Yet fueled by technological advancements and broader cultural conditions, producers are flocking to the Internet, developing new ways of storytelling and information delivery, while investing considerable time and money all to reach and engage an amorphous and fickle audience. Using interviews with nearly thirty producers and executives, I argue this rhetoric of “connection” — with viewers and among producers — is fueling the development of this emerging media form.

Copying Obama: The Aeshetics of Hope October 30, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

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Above: Screengrab from BarackObama.com; Bill Thompson, running for Mayor of New York this week on Nov. 3rd; Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2008 campaign page; Anthony Woods, who lost his campaign for Congressional House district, CA-10; James Perry, running for mayor of New Orleans in 2010. Any that I’m missing?

The issue of websites borrowing, um, liberally from the aesthetics of Barack Obama’s website is an old one, becoming painfully obvious last year when Benjamin Netanyahu’s website became public, mimicry so shameless, the campaign didn’t bother playing coy:

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

I’ve noticed a number of campaign websites since, especially for black candidates, who also use either the same fonts, color schemes or tone of the Obama homepage.

This all makes sense: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While Obama’s poll numbers are down since his atmospheric — and completely unsustainable — post-inauguration highs, he stills remains popular (Gallup has him holding steady at slightly above 50%, for now), especially in the black community. (more…)

The Tender Same-Sex Moment in Levi’s “O Pioneers!” October 29, 2009

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Levi's - OPioneers! (Go Forth) Commercial

Embedded within the rapid stream of images in Levi's brilliant O Pioneers is a tender same-sex moment

Levi’s Jeans “Go Forth” ad campaign (dir. Sin Nombre‘s Cary Fukunaga for the firm Wieden+Kennedy) has been gaining some fans, most notably Slate’s Seth Stevenson. I’m not sure how popular the vid is on YouTube; between all the reposting it might have views in the low hundred thousands. I certainly stopped and paid attention when I saw the first 30-second spot, America, on television. The one-minute version is even better, since it contains the scene of young people protesting, presumably, some kind of Wall Street executive. The use of Walt Whitman’s poetry is great, and the use of his (purportedly) real voice is even better. Having not read Whitman in years, I’d forgotten how idealistic his poems sound. It’s very refreshing. Makes me actually want to read poetry.

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Web Series and Branded Entertainment October 13, 2009

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UPDATE: For links to everything I’ve written on web series, visit the web series page.

So my article in Businessweek on branded entertainment and the web series is finally out online! I’m just posting here to provide a bit more context, more than could make it into the article (below). The article focuses on MTV and Verizon’s Valemont and then talks about the market more broadly:

Valemont, with its high-profile premiere and heavy promotion, may give a boost to a budding, scripted, Web-series industry that, in spite of notable early successes, has yet to find a sustainable way to make money. It also underscores how companies can use the gamut of media—including the Web, TV, and online social tools—to pitch brands and products to highly targeted audiences. “This really graduates the format to a new level,” says John Shea, executive vice-president for integrated marketing for MTV Networks Music and another Viacom channel, Logo.” ….

“The brands believe that Web series are a new way to connect with viewers in a more intimate and engaging way than TV enables, even if the audiences are smaller. Companies trying to get their message across need multiple platforms to capture the attention of a multitasking society that’s typically online or on the cell phone while watching TV. “Producers are realizing that old TV broadcasts only capture a small portion of the viewer’s total media habits, especially during commercial periods, and they want to gain more of a piece of the pie,” Kunz says. “This helps both ratings and also the advertisers, who are the real target of producers.”

For the full article, click here or the links above. A big thanks to BusinessWeek Tech editor Tom Giles who really streamlined the article and made it an interesting read.

One of the points somewhat absent from the article was a sense of scope. There are, as I say in my web series guide, probably hundreds, if not thousands, of web series, and while most of those are not getting funding from sponsors, corporations or websites, many are. Valemont, in my opinion, is just one particularly ambitious example of the kind of marketing and distribution that is happening in very creative ways online.

TV-web cross promotions are happening more and more in this space, although mostly, as the article notes, with derivative content (extensions of shows and key characters). NBC vigorously promotes its transmedia extensions on TV. Desperate Housewives has a short series sponsored by Sprint, airing online and during commercials, which isn’t bad; Psych, as mentioned, has one with Mastercard. (PS – Sprint, will you call me? You’re involved with so many interesting digital projects, I want to interview you!)

Also, it should be noted, if it wasn’t clear, I was talking about scripted web series, which are generally more expensive and probably more labor intensive than reality-based shows, like Diggnation or Rocketboom.

Anyway, I’m interested in seeing where branded entertainment is going and if the market for original online content will organize itself around it. Can sponsorship become systematic in a post-network era, as it was in early TV?

ONLINE VIDEO: Apple Ads: Innovating Past the Competition June 1, 2009

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Why is Apple the only major company doing exciting and sleek video ads for publishing websites? They’ve been great on the New York Times’ website (the PC vs. Mac ads), and today I just saw this ad on New York Magazine‘s site for the Shuffle.

Apple’s ads are intrusive. They take up a lot of room. Usually, for most corporate ads, this is annoying — WashingtonPost.com has these kinds of ads all the time. Yet Apple’s design team is solid. Their ads are simple and fun. They are interactive and informative — the one above introduces readers to songs by Röyksopp, The Virgins and Phoenix (though New York Magazine’s affluential audience is likely aware of these bands).

A lot of companies are using large scale online video ads creatively, most notably at Pandora. But publishing websites for newspapers and magazines are different because people come there for information and really don’t want to see ads. But that doesn’t mean the websites aren’t fertile ground for a positive viewer experience.

Apple has a good formula, and it would behoove other companies to be similarly as disciplined and innovative in their approach.

TV: “30 Rock:” Canny Product Placement/ Cross-Promotion! May 8, 2009

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UPDATE: 30 Rock continued the “Dealbreaker” storyline in this week’s episode, “Kidney Live!,” and carried it to its hilarious extremes!

30 Rock has to be the most innovative and complex comedy on network TV these days. And not only for Tina Fey’s quirky, hilarious dialogue.

30 Rock - dealbreaker

Tonight the show unveiled a storyline involving a catchphrase — “That’s a Dealbreaker, Ladies!” — on the show’s fictional show “TGS with Tracey Jordan.” 30 Rock was parodying a real show, Millionaire Matchmaker and its host/star Patti Stanger (Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock) on Bravo, which is of course owned by NBC. Along with that storyline NBC started an interactive website based on “That’s a Dealbreaker” with quizzes and trivia. While the whole thing’s a little too obvious to actually become a meme or go viral, it’s a good little promo for Millionaire, whose season finale is tonight — just a little after 30 Rock! — and where Stanger takes on her first gay client! (The show’s ratings are fine.)

This recalls other 30 Rock product moments the including disputable non-product-placement for McDonalds — McFlurrygateplacements for the iPhone, and a very canny non-product-placement-product-placement with Verizon. Of course the show has also worked NBC properties like the Today Show.

What makes all this so effective is 30 Rock‘s ironic distance, which masks the obvious selling and, moreover, makes any obvious pitches all in good fun. 30 Rock understands that brands are part of pop culture, so a show about culture-making (TV production) should mine that cave for as much diamond-crap as possible.