Tuesday 23rd May 2017,
Televisual

Web Video Wrap-Up: Looking Back As Fall Approaches

Around the end of June I stopped publishing my weekly updates on web video because I was far too busy. Once again I think my schedule has become so packed, I don’t know if I can continue at that pace this fall, perhaps moving it to monthly.

Still, I tried to keep up with the news. I’ve compiled what I believe are some of the more important stories from July 1 to the end of summer.

My job got a little easier with Ryan Lawler posted a great summer recap of web TV. For all things related to big web video distributors — Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, cable companies and traditional networks — see his post at NewTeeVee. The web video space is pretty active right now, and the trends are hard to spot; Lawler does the best job I’ve seen.

I’ll chime in with a few more links.

Web Video Market

With all the writing about Hulu‘s possible sale, the most fascinating, if expected, development was Google’s bid for the company. It’s easy to see why Google would want Hulu; it gives it access to all that yummy mainstream media content that would work synergistically with YouTube and the plagued Google TV. Obviously Hulu’s backers are skeptical of Google — remember Hulu’s raison d’etre? — but apparently there’s lots of cash from Google on the table.

YouTube seems in a perpetual state of “growing up”; but it’s not all hot air, the site really is making more money while also investing semi-heavily in content and curation. The site has been using its deep catalogue of producers to entice big advertisers; it has upgraded analytics for partners; and tried to guide partners through creation in various ways. The message out of Vidcon this summer was clear: YouTube really is maturing.

Finally, Hulu-bidder Yahoo continues its bid for relevance by releasing a slate of original programs featuring good, afforable celebrities like Niecy Nash and Judy Greer (I approve!). The programming slate looks very early-TV, reality-based and sponsored, which is fine. Business Insider publishes its two cents.

Web Series

Lots of web series activity this summer, with perhaps the biggest news coming from the Streamy Awards, which has returned with a new production partner in Dick Clark. The deal received mostly plaudits from web folk, though some indies are skeptical of a possible move to TV. Liz Miller gathers the thoughts of many of the space’s most important people. What do I think? The Streamys have brand recognition and a track record, and any plans it has to move forward is great news. The people running it have their heads the right place. Any move to TV would require showcasing star power and high-profile projects, which is fine, but hopefully the little people don’t get shut out. The Spirit Awards, though sometimes criticized for being a mini-Oscars or Hollywood-lite, is a decent model to follow; it honors bigger budget and micro-budget films, even if the big-budget guys end up taking home most of the awards. Maybe we can do better. And the IAWTV is moving ahead with its own show at CES in January. The more, the merrier I say.

Along with this announcement came some late-summer soul-searching, sparked by the very smart Shira Lazar, who suggested “web series” drop the “web,” which has been argued before. Wilson Cleveland chimed in, then Tubefilter. Basically I agree, especially from a content-creator/marketer perspective. From a writer perspective, though, “web series” is still the most descriptive and accurate term I have.

This debate is more pressing as mainstream soaps One Life to Live and All My Children seem poised to go online next year. Details are still being hammered out, as the famed Susan Lucci appears to be bailing. She has a point: given the enormous cost of making soaps by web video standards, and the still-developing market for monetizing web video, nailing down a budget is going to be tough. Still, soaps are almost inherently brand-friendly, and ABC should have the right relationships to make that work.

The summer saw some interesting projects arise and continue to go on.

Am I the only one surprised The LXD is still going strong? Its third season debuted in August, a premiere probably helped by a So You Think You Can Dance performance. It’s a gorgeous series, and I’m surprised/happy that Chu/Agility/Paramount are sticking with it. The LXD is now grandfather to a host of higher-cost content on Hulu, including The Booth at the End and A Day in the Life. Another, similarly ambitious-looking project is finally coming out from Warner Premiere and Bryan Singer, H+. “Coming soon,” it was teased at the last Comic-Con. It might be one to watch.

As far as TV goes, it’s been a mixed bag of news. Much was made of Comcast‘s decision to cut NBC‘s digital studio to focus on content tied to on-air programming. But as broadcast TV pulls back, which has been happening for years, web networks are upgrading. And it’s not just Yahoo. Crackle released its (likely) last short-form series, Issues, before going long-form. On cable, PR-plagued AMC is going into web originals, as is BET.

I was also pleased to see Strike TV, one of my favorite upstart distributors, partner with Metacafe for a web series contest. The winner, Dwelling, by Office-alum Anthony Farrell, will get a second season.

Each summer there’s an indie-breakout, but my one-to-watch is Awkward Black Girl, which seems unstoppable: raising tens of thousands on Kickstarter and snagging mainstream press like NPR. In the past few weeks I’ve been interviewed twice by media outlets about that one series alone.

Research and Policy

On the data front, we got some more news about the presumed effectiveness of online video advertising. Pre-rolls apparently do get watched, especially if the viewer has been given a choice, and they can generally deliver high ROI (in part because prices are still low). That goes for YouTube and Hulu.

Unsurprisingly, more people are getting IPTV, and the ad dollars are soon to follow, especially as gaming consoles roll out new services.

Meanwhile, ISPs have joined the anti-piracy fight, proposing an intricate “alert” system that may result in customers losing or receiving slower broadband connections. This makes me mad — I’m a known skeptic of traditional institutions defending copyright..

Hollywood and Tech

Unlimited data plans are truly going out the window — now Verizon, following AT&T and T-Mobile (by the way, will they get married?). Not sure how this affects new services like Android’s movie rentals.

Maybe the iPad wars are ending.

H264 is winning codec war.

Total ad spending on cable exceeded that of the broadcast networks for the first time. I’m surprised it took this long.

SAG and AFTRA are moving forward — for real, apparently — with merger discussions.

United Talent Agency is expanding its web content efforts, particularly in New York. And ex-UTAers have launched a new production company to bring web content to TV, starting with Cheezburger.

And Google bought Motorola! NewTeeVee finds a Google TV connection.

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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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