Ed. note: The following is a guest editorial from Gennefer Snowfield, who returns for another article on web series marketing and business strategy. The following represents the opinions of the author. For a complete bio, see the bottom of this article.
One of my core specialties is web series strategy, promotion and branded entertainment experiences that augment show content. As such, I work with a number of web series, many of whom overlap in genre. In a recent DM conversation with a web series producer on Twitter, he mentioned that one of the shows I’m working with is a competitor of his because they are both sci-fi series. That point immediately struck me because it never occurred to me that any online programs are in direct competition with one another as they are in a traditional TV environment. And if anything, TV programming is more about competing with coveted time slots to feed an antiquated ratings system of measurement, which has largely been eliminated due to DVR and Video On Demand options anyway. In fact, as the space continues to evolve, I see the biggest competitive challenge to be mindshare as viewers don’t have the time to consume programming every second of the day. Yet with the saturation of content available between tube and web TV, they certainly could!
The fact is that most consumers don’t even realize the wealth of web TV that is currently out there, so the underlying issue isn’t competition… it’s discovery. Even as someone immersed in the web series space, I’m not familiar with every single show, or all of the channels for viewing them, which seem to pop up daily.
But online content producers can actually surmount this hurdle collectively by banding together to build the web TV category overall, attract new viewers, and dare I say, share fan bases. Although we’re seeing more longer form content being produced — and consumed — online (according to the recent Pew report), overall webisodes are much shorter than traditional TV, making it even more feasible for viewers to adopt several series within the same genre. And with the added benefit of being able to watch them on their own time.
So, where do you go from here?
Form Your Own League of Extraordinary Super Series
It’s not rocket science that a collective of super heroes is infinitely more powerful than one. Each have their own strengths (and weaknesses), so joining forces allows them to advance on a much greater scale. While web series creators may not be battling evil villains, they can follow this principle by joining forces to penetrate the market and generate increased visibility for their respective shows. In that collaborative spirit, you could take reciprocal linking one step further by offering clips of other series within your genre in a very Amazon-esque way… i.e.“If you liked this show, you may also like…” At the point of interaction recommendations offer a higher likelihood of clickthrough because you are tapping into an audience that is pre-disposed to a particular type of content. Think of it as COMPlementary, not COMPetition.
You could also create an online forum where viewers can discuss shows and interact around a central topic. Fans want the ability to share content with others and talk about storylines and characters, so facilitating a social vehicle where they can do that builds affinity for each participating series. Plus, having several web series involved allows you to pool your resources and expand your development efforts (and fan base) beyond what you could do individually. A venue like this also gives fans a voice to make recommendation of other shows that they’d like to see included, delivering on viewer wants while adding more juice to your network.
And a genre-specific directory like the one Steve Lettieri, creator of Zerks Log, is building for the sci-fi category called SciFinal is the perfect example of harnessing the collective power of the web TV community to foster discovery, raise awareness and visibility for associated series and generate increased traffic and fans. Through a multi-series-supported gateway, you can maximize promotion for all involved. Bottom line, there’s strength in numbers. Oh, and more viewers, too.
‘Exclusive’ Starts with ‘Ex.’ ‘Extinct’ Starts with ‘Ex.’ Coincidence? I Think Not.
One of the key advantages of the web – and web programming – is that it is not bound by channel exclusivity like broadcast TV networks. The ubiquitous nature of the online space allows you to get your series out literally anywhere across the worldwide web. While there are channels popping up that are seeking to force antiquated models onto web TV through exclusive distribution (and even commercials!), it is not always beneficial to series whose primary goal should be to first get the word out that they exist. And you can’t do that through a single venue that most consumers don’t even know about. Even with all of the mainstream press and celebrity adoption that Twitter has gotten, a recent study showed that 70% of the population has still never heard of Twitter. Consider that before diving into an exclusive arrangement with an even less well known site.
Exclusive distribution agreements work for the channel in differentiating themselves from the myriad of sites hopping onto the web TV bandwagon, but unless they are reaching a lion share of the market (which most aren’t yet), it limits a series ability to reach and cultivate fans across the nooks and crannies of the web. Unfortunately, when it comes to web TV, Kevin Costner was dead wrong. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come. It’s up to you to seek out your audience wherever they might be online, and go to them. Channels are fine for reaching the low hanging fruit of early adopters and web series seekers, and offer halo benefits through the site’s own promotional efforts, but you need the ability to make your content available elsewhere as well.
This is a perfect opportunity for like genres to work together to make their shows available on established sites that serve their particular segment of the population. By approaching them together, you are able to offer the web property more substantial content of interest to their users that will help expand their own site traffic and visibility in the process. I’ve been a fan of After Judgment for a while but happened across a post on the popular sci-fi blog, Sci-Fi Scoop, last week where they had only just come across the series and made the entire first season available on their site. Their glowing review plus Sc-Fi Scoop’s loyal sci-fi lovin’ users plus full episodes on the site served to instantly increase After Judgment’s exposure among a targeted audience (and it didn’t cost them a dime). Sites are craving good content, and if you ask me, there should be a web series section on every niche site where users can discover relevant shows. So, identify the sites, assemble your fellow web series cohorts and go forth and multiply.
May the Brand Force Be With You.
Though the bailouts might suggest otherwise, there is only so much money to go around. And as labors of love morph into labors of debt, more web series are looking for brand sponsorship dollars to fund their shows. The problem is, in many cases, they’re all vying for the same piece of the pie. But, fortunately, so are the brands.
As more traditional marketing efforts – and especially TV advertising – continue to wane in reach and effectiveness, brands are increasingly turning to web entertainment as an interactive way to forge emotional connections with consumers. In other words, they need you as much as you need them. But many are just dipping their toes in the water and not allotting a significant portion of their ad spend to branded content (why can’t they all be like Southern Comfort and shift their entire media budget into digital?). So, you can create a more palatable value proposition for web entertainment naive brands by pitching an ensemble of web series as a package deal.
If you think about it, it’s no different than a brand advertising to the same demographic across multiple TV/cable networks and competitor shows. Bringing together a group of series that each represent a slice of the market the brand is trying to reach will not only give the brand greater exposure among its desired audience (and a more meaningful, one-to-one way of doing it), it will also allow each series to tap into the brand equity of the sponsor to advance their individual shows, and the web TV category as a whole. Plus, it represents the difference between five series getting funded vs. just one, and if the branded experiences are customized to the lifestyle and emotional triggers of the audience you’re trying to reach, both brand and series will be successful. And you can build on that momentum to feed ongoing production and promotion through your brand sponsor.
These tactics will likely evolve in the future once discovery is no longer a core issue and web channels become as recognizable as NBC or HBO. Or, as David Nett, creator of GOLD the series, so eloquently put it, “… once people accept that TV is just ‘television,’ and not the broadcast method.”
My hope is, at that time, more nimble models will emerge that allow for revenue-sharing opportunities with content creators over an archaic ratings system or ambiguous affiliate programs. Ideally, the content will have the monetary value – not the the distribution channel — and any remnants of a competition-based paradigm will be overshadowed by experiences that are simply an extension of users’ lives and viewing preferences — not their remote control.
Gennefer is a writer, producer and CEO of Space Truffles Entertainment, a boutique digital strategy shop specializing in branded entertainment, web series promotion and immersive transmedia narratives that extend the brand experience through custom multi-platform content. A new media strategist and advisor, Gennefer is considered a thought leader in branded entertainment and speaks on topics ranging from digital storytelling to augmented reality. With over a decade in traditional and web marketing, Gennefer develops compelling brand encounters and multimedia experiences that are changing the face of interactive entertainment.