Very few web series attract any pre-launch attention, those that do begin with a distinct advantage, an audience that is already aware of its existence. One of the biggest challenges a new series faces, is the ever increasingly daunting task of cutting through the clutter of online video. Furthermore, not only do web series need to compete with other shows, vloggers, and keyboard playing kids and kittens, they are also in competition with social media sites, other websites, games, and occasionally, real life. The competition for viewer attention has never been greater. Simply releasing a series and hoping that it will find an audience is not an option. Therefore, in order to be competitive, in order to build an audience, a series needs to begin generating buzz even before the show launches.
Early Teases Are Key
Two of the more successful series this past year, Compulsions and The Bannen Way understood the importance of prerelease buzz. In fact, no series in recent memory did a better job of promotion than Compulsions, which is not surprising given creator Bernie Su’s day job is in advertising. When asked about its importance, Su stated, “When you have pre-launch buzz, the press/public has bought into your hype. They’re excited, anticipating, and hungry for your content. It allows instant loyalty to your series right from the gun.”
However, once you have received the all important prerelease attention it is equally important to capitalize upon it. Su continues, “If you squander it, you’ve lost the opportunity to hook in that initial group of devoted fans. Once that chance is gone, it becomes so much harder to bring them back.” Of course too much hype, and a show runs the risk of creating a backlash, something the team behind The Bannen Way learned when its potential audience was nearly burned out on the show before it even aired.
Hitting the Message Boards
Series creators need to be proactive when it comes to generating buzz and building an audience. OzGirl creator Nick Carlton targeted the lonelygirl15 fanbase months before his series’ release. He went to sites like MySpace and Bebo, found out who the fans of the show were, and appealed directly to them to try his new show. Social networking sites and message boards are a great way to not only find a potential audience but also a great way to interact directly with them. In fact, targeting message boards has become a standard practice. At the recent Digital Hollywood conference, during one panel, various creators were asked how they got the word out about their show. They each mentioned that one of the things they did was target message boards centered on themes compatible with their respective series. If one is making a niche show, find out where the niche lives and go to them; sitting back and waiting for them to come is not an option.
Likewise websites that cover your particular niche or that cover web series in general are an invaluable resource. No matter how obscure the niche, chances are there exists an online community dedicated to it. Also, think broadly; imagine all possible groups that might be predisposed to watching. Furthermore, if launching a new show, contact a person who writes for the site and send them information about your series. Liz Shannon Miller from NewTeeVee has written a very useful post for creators about what information to include when contacting a website about their web series. If you want to ensure that your show receives coverage, do not make writers work for the privilege of covering your series. Similarly, when contacted for more information about your show, respond. For the most part, whenever I have asked those involved in a web series for information or had a question, they have been eager to reply; however, a few never acknowledged my email. Guess which series I tend to write about? [Email tips[at]tubefilter.tv to submit your series for coverage on Tubefilter News]
Similarly, creating a trailer can help build prerelease buzz even if the actual series is months from completion and gives potential reviewers something else to add to their article. When asked how useful a trailer can be to a new web series, Bannen Way co-creator Mark Gantt said, “I think we were very fortunate to have someone like Tim Street and Tubefilter find our trailer and post it on their site. It really started to get the ball rolling and people were aware of the show for a year [before debuting].” However, bear in mind, that “Coming Soon” does not mean “If we secure funding.” A failure to launch is a guaranteed way to lose an audience. Also, speaking of funding, a trailer can be very beneficial when meeting with potential investors. The team behind The Bannen Way independently financed their trailer, which they showed to Sony who financed and released the series.
There’s No Place Like Home
Congruently, make it easy for audiences to find information about your series. The simplest means of achieving this goal is to set up a website. The site need not be an elaborate social network; a simple blog that has relevant information is sufficient. Not only is this beneficial to those who need information to put in an article, but it also gives them a place to direct readers for updates and future information. Include a signup section and you can begin collecting information on interested potential viewers. Lastly, Kristyn Burtt, host of The Web.Files, wrote a comprehensive post on publicity earlier this month, which contains a number of useful tips. Every little thing that a show can do to build its audience is worth the effort. Right now, many web series survive on a very small audience. Evan an extra hundred viewers can represent a significant gain.
Web series creators simply cannot rely on an “If we build it, they will come” attitude. The intense competition for the audience’s attention affords a series only one chance to hook its viewers. However, with some forethought, planning, and effort creators can build enough prerelease buzz to hopefully cut through some of the clutter surrounding online video.
[About the author: One of the first generation, lonelygirl15 fans, Mathieas has watched the web series community grow from its inception, written about it extensively, and chronicled its ups and downs. He lives in Michigan, enjoys long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners, and is a friend to children and small animals alike.]