Sunday 28th May 2017,
Televisual

Beyond “Black Hulu:” Rowdy Orbit’s Ambitious Bid To Build A Web Series Market

After 90 episodes of about a dozen web shows published less than three months into its beta launch, Rowdy Orbit founder Jonathan Moore claims this is only the beginning. The site plans to launch six to ten webisodes in the next two weeks, and hopes to be going at a rate of 12 to 15 new shows a month in 2010 — plans I teased in my earlier post, “Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Online Video.”

Needless to say, that’s a lot of shows by and about people of color! Are there even enough series out there to support this kind of development?

Producing Series In-House

“Whatever we don’t find, we’ll have to create,” Moore flatly told me. “We’re going to have to start producing and developing our own web series.”

For a start-up company, that’s a tall order. Bringing it down to earth, Moore elaborated that the first series would likely be modest in scope: a talk-show-like show with non-mainstream authors interviewing each other, released weekly several times a month ad infinitum or until viewers lost interest.

I appreciated the nod to continual production. Some of the most popular web shows are continuous — i.e., not bounded by seasons. The web needs content. Moore agreed.

“It’s all about consistency,” he said.

Extending the Series Online, On Television and Offline

This kind of production is extremely costly, but Moore said independent producers need to think beyond a mere 6-12 episode season. He’s been encouraging those on Rowdy Orbit to consider doing much more than the usual: shooting extra footage as they film so they can publish additional content later; blogging; programming on BlogTalkRadio; in sum producing “sweat equity.”

Producers have to keep sweating, especially, I would add, independent minority producers who often have less access to capital.

Moore is one of very few people in this space encouraging producers to submit their shows for distribution on public access TV, both local and regional — Anacostia is a good example of a (gay) black series doing well with this option. By doing this, Moore says they’ll have numbers to show to sponsors and networks that their programs can work on television.

In addition Moore also suggests producers attend conferences, do speaking engagements, write a book, and hold seminars.

“You’ve come this far. Add those extra couple of steps,” he said he tells them.

That’s a lot of steps! I doubt most producers will be able to reach that level of productivity, but some of those steps could be very useful. One only need think of how much Comic Cons have helped promote The Guild to think of the power of moving what’s online offline.

Brand, Meet Brand

Every step of the way, Moore hopes brands will follow, from within show through product placement/brand integration to sponsoring offline events that help market the show to physical communities.

“It’s about ROI,” he said. “How can we help them extend their brand to offline engagement?”

Using Ikea and Ileana Douglas’ Easy to Assemble as an example, Moore echoed what I’ve heard from a few marketers: that web content is about more that “hits” and “views” — though Easy to Assemble is immensely popular — but about brand retention, “connecting people together and making it interactive and engaging.”

Integrating the show sponsor as much as possible ensures messages are cohesive, the theory goes. But this point is much debated, it remains unclear if the majority of large advertisers are willing to reshape the metric-centric mentality of the Nielsen era.

Going Mobile and Other Aspirations

Right now, Moore is trying marry brands with series and working on bringing advertisers to the site, performing the kind of function sites like Koldcast are trying to perfect.

It doesn’t stop there. By next year, Rowdy Orbit hopes to go mobile, distributing shows online like Babelgum has done, a site which, however, may be having some problems.

“We’re going to need to. Doesn’t matter if we want to, we’re going to have to,” Moore said about going mobile. Mobile does seem to be the future. Surely, iPhone apps have been for Apple, but can original content be good for producers and distributors?

New Shows


This month will bring new shows to the site’s roster. Black Dimensions TV, which has four web series, will be adding new programming around issues of the family and dating, in such settings as the barbershop.

Throw’d TV — what Moore calls “Second City” for African Americans — will offer some YouTube-style humor.

Whew! Rowdy Orbit is seriously ambitious. I’m retaining a healthy dose of skepticism as to whether he and producers of color can achieve all of these goals, but even if they achieve some — especially the ones involving $$$ — they’ll be well on their way to making a good idea into a real market. Surely, talking to Moore, he sounds confident and has done his research, but making money online is a tricky business for anyone, let alone a startup only a few months old!

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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.

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