There are barriers to being listing on IMDB (the Internet Movie Database) for all TV, film and video projects, but for web series, the bar is simply too high.
I’ll start off here by saying that a listing on IMDB is important to any entertainment project for a number of reasons which boil down to one overarching theme: legitimacy.
Over the past five or six years, IMDB, for better or worse, has become the standard system of record for the entertainment industry in verifying the legitimacy of projects, especially independent projects which do not immediately gain wide distribution. An entry in the database is evidence of an entertainment product. It’s a stamp of approval, a sign of the massive amount of work that went into a movie, television show, or short film.
No listing on IMDB is nearly tantamount to not appearing on Google. It’s not that you don’t exist without it, but without it you exist far less.
IMDB has a serious challenge keeping up with the firehose of content seeking placement in its database. Because they are the source of record for legitimate entertainment productions and want to maintain that status, they can’t let any project into the club. They filter for legit content using these two general criteria.
From IMDB, the content 1) “must be of general public interest” and 2) “should be available to the public or have been available in the past.”
Seems pretty reasonable. Where it gets dicey for independent projects (those without big studio backing, national distribution or attached celebrities) is how to project that “general public interest.” For indie films (features and shorts), IMDB has decided to let the film festival circuit be the auditor. Inclusion in any festival which screens content for quality is a ticket onto the site. Sometimes the bar is even lower. According to Withoutabox (an online service which assists in promoting independent films to festivals), “most films now qualify [for IMDB inclusion] as soon as their first Withoutabox submission is received by a festival.”
But, for independent web series, it’s a different story. The film fest route isn’t open to them (yet, anyway). So, IMDB has chosen another measuring stick. In order for a web series to be listed, it must (again, from IMDB) gain “significant national mainstream press or very substantial, verifiable viewership.”
The problem with this criteria is twofold. First, popularity (“substantial, verifiable viewership”) is not a requirement for films or traditional television listed in IMDB. In fact, a large number of television pilots which never made it to air, much less past the first episode, are listed. And films which screen only at festivals (even a large number of festivals) have total audiences often smaller than even a moderately popular online series.
IMDB inclusion is not, and should not be, a popularity contest – the number of viewers should be irrelevant to the legitimacy of a project. (IMDB has not publicly released the actual viewership threshold they require for web series.)
The problem with the second requirement, “significant mainstream press” coverage, is that the main sources of editorial for the burgeoning web television movement – Tilzy.TV, NewTeeVee, and Tubefilter – are not yet considered by IMDB to be significant mainstream press, largely because those news outlets are online-only. But, attracting “mainstream press” to a web series which does not come from an established studio, or which does not have an attached celebrity, is an extraordinarily difficult pursuit. And, again, this is not a bar to which independent films must rise.
All this said, many web series have gained inclusion in the database. But many more legitimate, professional, independent, online original programs have not, despite repeated submissions, because they cannot meet these thresholds.
IMDB has a responsibility to filter those projects which seek entry. It does so, for independent films, by allowing those projects to be audited by experts in the field: film festivals. Why not do the same for web television? Instead of making inclusion a popularity contest, let the experts in this new field, magazines like Tilzy.TV, NewTeeVee, and Tubefilter make the cut. I’m certain they, and other news outlets which will no doubt emerge to cover the growing web television scene, will be happy to provide the service.
And it would level the IMDB playing field between traditional and new media, acknowledging that an entertainment project’s legitimacy is based on more than just its delivery mechanism.