Gathering Storm

Apple’s recent announcement about the re-launching and re-branding of its video on demand set-top box sent shock waves through the web series community. That is to say, the announcement would have sent shock waves, had so many involved persons not been arguing over who gets to be in the web series club. Web series and web TV are to different animals. One is a new story-telling mechanism unique to its medium; the other is a content distribution system that encompasses all original online video. The question, “What is a web series?” is an interesting one if only for academic reasons; however, it pales in comparison to the larger questions, “What makes online video unique?” and “How can it compete with existing television?” Very soon, web TV will find itself in a fight, a fight for the family living room.

With a major player like Apple stepping into the arena, greater awareness among the consumer buying public will follow. Greater awareness will lead to an increase in demand and an opportunity for other companies to enter the market with competing products that, by necessity, must differentiate themselves from the established players. Offering access to a library of web series could and will be one way to do so. The technology already exists. You can already purchase a low profile PC equipped with a large hard drive, Wi-Fi, and an HDMI output for around $300 dollars. Software such as Boxee, which works on numerous third party systems and computers, is capable of accessing web video. In addition, the company is set to release a stand-alone set-top device made by D-Link. Once developers realize that there is a market for such devices, in other words, that they can make money, competing products will emerge.

Boxee AppsVery soon, web series will have to compete directly with broadcast and cable television. The good news is that they can compete. Consumer level video equipment rivals professional models. Furthermore, YouTube and other video hosting sites already allow uses to upload HD quality video. It is even possible to achieve broadcast-quality live streaming video. The result is that a person with relatively inexpensive consumer level equipment and free online services can rival the quality of major television networks. Pick up season three of The Guild and compare the production values to the average network sitcom; the series looks as good as any network show. In fact, I gave one of my OzGirl DVDs to a friend, who after viewing thought it was a movie. When I explained it was a web series, she was surprised that it was “one of those YouTube things.”

If web series are to survive the coming paradigm shift and transmedia convergence, I do so love a good buzzword, quality is paramount. The reason The Guild looks professional is that it is made by professionals. Within 10 to 20 seconds of watching a new web series, one can tell if it is a professionally made series or a slapped-together amateur production. Anyone can stand in front of a camera for three minutes and give you their opinion, or record their buddies cracking jokes on a couch. Making something that has quality, requires a certain degree of talent, training, and experience. The story, character development, performance, and such must be up to television standards. Fortunately, TV has set the bar so low that the goal is more than attainable.

Like Lindsay Lohan’s next bust for possession, convergence is coming. I predict within the next five years, web series that is to say video content from the web will be largely available and watched on regular television. This does not mean that individuals will stop watching video on their computer or ‘web enabled devise,’ it simply means that web TV will join the ranks of broadcast and cable television and as such directly compete with them for viewership.

(Top photo by Federì)

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