Saturday 25th March 2017,
Televisual

What Should We Call A Web Series (And the IAWTV)?

Tubefilter reports, following the New York Times, that the New Oxford American Dictionary has picked “refudiate” as the word of the year, among a list of other candidates. These are words that, while not really real words, enter the zeitgest and start to be used as such.

Also in contention this year was “webisode.” Welcome to 1997, lexicographers!

I’ve never really liked the word “webisode,” but it’s one among a laundry list of terms describing “web series” I’ve come across while researching this space. There are a lot of them:

web original

online serial

online series

web serial

web series

web video series

webisode series

webisode

web show

online show

web TV / web television

Internet TV / Internet television

It’s hard to develop a media form when you can’t agree on a name. This list doesn’t even include format-specific terms like “vlog series,” “transmedia narratives,” “ARG series” (I’ve heard it!) and even things like “social stories” — which come with more specific expectations of format and experience. Newer attempts to integrate social gaming is making matters worse (though undeniably cool).

The issue is becoming more pressing as the IAWTV (International Academy of Web Television) queries members on whether it should rename the organization, and, if so, to what. Some “web series” are like vlogs (classically, Fred); others are as long as television series.What the heck do we do?

Meanwhile, as media converge — see: the rapid deployment of web/TV devices like Boxee and Google/Apple TV — the “web,” “online” and “Internet” part of the equation are fast becoming outmoded. We knew this would happen. Some alternatives like “digital entertainment” seem too broad. Some like “digital arts and sciences” — a nod to AMPAS — are taken, and not any more useful. “Interactive Storytelling” and its cousins are possible choices, but the degree to which any one series is interactive is highly variable, and not really a necessary condition for success, I might add.

I’ve always used “web series,” which seems to be both elegant and descriptive — but I also hew the topics on this blog to TV-like experiments for online distribution. I like “web originals” for its inclusiveness — it’s also the choice of YouTube, Hulu and other networks — but it, like web series, begs the “web” question. What will happen when content goes on different devices? As it already is?

I have no answers. But I will say this: coming up with an infallible term is a fool’s errand. Just ask the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People about devising a name to stand the test of time. Many of the media-related terms we now accept as descriptive have become abstract and hard to pin down: what is “television”? “Film”? A “record”? Film as a material is dying, nobody listens to records, and television is no longer in a box. The terms are more metaphors now, nostalgically pointing to experiences and senses than concrete materials.

How about “converging entertainment”? Not snazzy enough. Drat.

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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.

9 Comments

  1. Matt Okine November 16, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    I think “Web Series” is definitely the best.

    It’s a series, designed specifically for broadcast over the internet, regardless of HOW it’s viewed…

    Sure – some TV shows are now broadcast over the internet too, but they weren’t made for that exact reason.

    Or were they??

    holy crap, I think i need to read this article again….

  2. Aymar Jean Christian November 18, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Yea, and I think “web” might end up being one of those terms, like “television” and “film” that becomes more metaphor than reality, or reflective of an ideology (interactivity, convergence, etc). We’ll probably still use it for awhile, even if the medium itself changes.

  3. Jamie Cohen November 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I have heard so many terms it’s unbelievable, but it seems that no matter what it is called, people seem to get the gist of what we are talking about. I think the word television in many people’s minds is in the traditional sense. When you put any descriptor in front of it, it automatically updates. I think with any of the words on your list, people understand it is web content. The only thing I don’t like is when it is just simply referred to as “video”. But remember, we still refer to the term “record album” which really comes from a late 1800s style of phonograph record packaging.

  4. Aymar Jean Christian November 25, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    Yea, I think it’s easy to over-think things. No matter what, if the form is around and it circulates, people will get the gist. People also forget that “television” as a term dates back at least two decades before the first mass-produced TV entered the market. It was an idea and technology that had been percolating outside the mainstream for a very long time.

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