Tuesday 16th January 2018,

Online Television, Web Serials Primer – Introduction (Part 2)




















Web serials are also experimenting with distribution and exhibition online. The main debate centers on how to showcase the show, how people find it. This typically involves using either a video hosting site (YouTube, MySpace, Slide FunSpace on Facebook, Blip.tv, Crackle.com), a targeted video hosting site (FunnyorDie.com; CollegeHumor.com; Minimovie.com), a separate site for the show (lg15.com, afterworld.tv, theburg.tv), placing it on a network’s site (CW.com, NBC.com, IFC.com), or syndicating it, putting in more places than one,[1] which appears to be the new trend. (Norlin 2009) Here again, there are debates: some say single programs cannot stand alone, that websites become hits, not shows: “People are conditioned to think of hits as single programs…That’s not going to work online, where Hulu is a hit, Twitter is a hit.” (Caranicas 2009) Yet some networks want to drive traffic to their website, and still others lack trust in the business models of major hosting sites like YouTube, who is still tinkering with pleasing ad models (pre-rolls, in-video display). History shows, moreover, that some users will pay for shows (Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), but no major company sees that as the future. Placing a show on a site like YouTube or Facebook incorporates the social networking and interactivity, which many, including lonelygirl15 co-creator Miles Beckett, say is vital. (New Media Age 2009) In the end, a growing consensus believes the television and computer screen will have to merge, or that the role of “television” itself will change, focusing on big live events rather than scripted or documentary (reality TV) fare. (Caranicas 2009; McQuivey 2009)


            The online video market is still small, and despite its growth, networks and content producers are debating whether it is the future of serialized moving images. Some forecasts suggest the online video market will grow considerably but only reach 10 percent of traditional TV’s revenue. (Albrecht 2009) As an additional challenge, many Internet users – perhaps 70 percent – know nothing about web serials, even as video watching, by almost any metric, continues to grow. (Dobuzinskis 2009; McQuivey 2009; Albrecht 2009) The market also lacks structure. For advertisers, the diffuse nature of content delivery systems (both on the computer screen and to the television) leads to confusion about where to put their money. (Learmonth 2009) All this is happening during a recession, causing numerous players to pull back. Advertisers are not buying enough ads to fund all the video out there (from Hulu to YouTube) and networks are retrenching, pulling back content (Hulu from Boxee; FX from Hulu). These moves may, in the end, prove ill-considered. More collaboration leads to more innovation, which will help develop web serials into a viable commercial form.


Albrecht, Chris. 2009. Is Online Video a Threat to TV?. March 26. NewTeeVee.com. http://newteevee.com/2009/03/26/is-online-video-a-threat-to-tv/

Barraclough, Leo. 2009. Made-for-online content still stalled; Business model remains a work in progress. March 29. Daily Variety.

Caranicas, Perter. 2009. Panel debates future of television; Discussion puts focus on TV, Internet. April 28. Daily Variety.

Chaney, Jen. 2009. ‘I Don’t Quite Know the Metrics of the Success.’; Josh Schwartz Is Getting in Tune With TV on the Web. March 8. The Washington Post, E02.

Dobuzinskis, Alex. 2009. Hollywood Struggles to find wealth on the Web. February 18. Reuters.

Donahue, Ann. 2008. Music show launches on TheWB.com. October 30. Billboard.com.

Hale, Mike. 2008. Television Keeps a Hand in the Online Game With Serialized Shows. September 2. The New York Times, Arts 5.

Hampp, Andrew. 2008. NBC Universal wants advertisers to fund original web series; Digital studio plans to integrate brands during the development stage. October 13. Advertising Age.

Heffernan, Virginia. 2007. Artists Only. December 23. The Medium blog. The New York Times.

Heffernan, Virigina. 2008. Serial Killers. August 24. The Medium blog. The New York Times.

Learmonth, Michael. 2009. Digital Marketing Guide: Video: From Broadcast Sites to Startups, How to Navigate the Online Content Space… March 30. Advertising Age. http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=135596

McQuivey, James L. 2009. Preparing for the Coming Online TV Backlash: An Open Letter To An Industry On The Verge Of A Big Mistake. March 13. Forrester Research.

McQuivey, James L. 2009. There’s an online TV storm a brewin.’ March 29. OmniVideo. http://omnivideo.wordpress.com/2009/03/27/theres-an-online-tv-storm-a-brewin/

Norlin, Chase. 2009. The Next Big Thing In Online Video: Syndication. April 15. OnlineMediaDaily. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=103973

Owen, Rob. 2009. Web TV: Series not just for television anymore. March 17. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, A1.

Strauss, Gary. 2009. CollegeHumor.com laughs all the way to a TV series ; Not quite sketch, not quite scripted. February 5. The New York Times, D3.

Staff. 2009. Teens expect more integration says KateModern team. February 12. New Media Age

[1] Which is what Arianna Huffington proposes. (Caranicas 2009)

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.


  1. kobe abe May 7, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    thoughts: TV content is still locked into the rational of a mass distributive medium. commercial models remain focused on demographic consumer groups. In spite of the digital revolution, TV content tends to relicate what works. the problem is grounded in the capital requirement need to produce ‘quality’ content. this restriction limits the ability of content producers to vary the forms of content.

    the internet is distinct in that it can facilitate the targeting of minority interest groups. the grow of the internet is based on these groups coming together, becoming internet savy and then generating their own content. from this process new idea’s of content have emerged. [arguably, much of this content is of limited capital object-value or qualitative use-value. the gaming industry being the exception on both counts.]

    put simply, the internet evolves at a faster pace than TV, because the two mediums are ideologically-if not commercially, pulling in opposite directions.

    but this is not new. content providers have always had to choose between the universal and the specific-consider public service broadcasters. as the means of distribution has become more prevalent (more channels), and the shift in emphasis (from the generic audience to the specific) gathers pace, revenue re advertisers has shrunk.

    the question is how to maintain the quality of content with an ever shrinking revenue stream. the argument thus comes full circle: the answer hinging on distribution. once a universal distributive platform emerges and an interface (ie. flashplayer) convergence can continue apace. but this drive runs contrary to the ideology of the internet-the user as content.

    what is the answer? a popular cultural dialect, with content forms filtering up through the internet onto our tv screens. tell me in 20 years time that i will be watching substancial TV content produced for the internet and i’d have to ask you how much will it cost to subscribe?

  2. Aymar Jean Christian May 8, 2009 at 1:37 am

    I think that’s all mostly true. And I think everyone agree there will have to be more seamless integration between the TV and the Internet and between all the Internet shows. I think there needs to be more aggegration — more central hubs for content — in order for web serials to truly take off.

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