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Video Awards: Making a Market?

Aymar Jean Christian January 20, 2012 Features 1 Comment on Video Awards: Making a Market?
Video Awards: Making a Market?

Originally posted at Hacktivision.

Why have awards? Award shows help media creators establish norms and values for audiences. They adjudicate quality, innovation, diversity and help raise awareness.

The past two weeks have seen two big awards developments for professional web video: the IAWTV Awards held at CES January 12 and the WGA nominations. What about video can we learn from them? 

When I look at the nominees and winners I see a burgeoning market trying to negotiate independent and corporate production, to recognize the web’s power to include new voices while acknowledge most high quality content often requries more resources.

WGA New Media Award

This is the second year the WGA has recognized new media creation. For years the Writers Guild has been committed to the transformative potential of digital distribution (stemming from the Writers Strike), particularly those produced outside traditional institutions. So the union each year recognizes two types of content: “original” and “derivative.” “Derivative” tends toward corporate fare — web shows that support TV and film — while “original” mixes it up. Last year the strong and scrappy teen lesbian series Anyone But Me won alongside 30 Rock. When I asked ABM‘s Susan Miller about what the award meant, she celebrated the web’s ability to support artist-driven production.

“It was the recognition on the part of other writers, of my peers, that it doesn’t matter what you write, write for, or what size screen. It’s really a matter of putting out something that matters to you,” Miller said.

This year, the WGA pits indie darlings Downsized (from Daryn Strauss) and Jack in a Box (from Michael Cryil Creighton) against Aim High, from McG, Warner Premiere and Dolphin Entertainment. Web programs for 30 Rock, Mortal Kombat (forthcoming as a movie), Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead are nominated in the derivate category.

IAWTV Awards (International Academy of Web Television)

The story of the IAWTV Awards is a bit more complicated.

Borne out of an internal squabble with the original “web series” award show, the Streamys (now moving forward), the IAWTV Awards had the task of proving it could be as good if not better than its former self. Unlike the WGA, most of whose awards go to traditional media participants, the IAWTV has the weight of a new and mostly invisible media format on its shoulders. A lot of hopes and fears were pinned on the show.

“I think it’s going to definitely blow up next year,” Felicia Day said of the market. Her series, The Guild, was the night’s big winner. “A lot of companies are looking at distribution on the web, specifically for the web, as being a neccessary part of their distribution model.”

This new environment — where companies like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Crackle Yahoo and Aol are pumping hundreds of millions in original over-the-top content — has greatly raised the stakes. As the market matures, what will happen to its scrappiest producers?

In its nominations the IAWTV did a pretty good job getting a mix of indie and corporate video. As NewTeeVee writer (and Hacktivision contributor!) Liz Miller wrote: “No awards show ever gets it exactly right…But looking at the nominees, one thing stands out — if the goal is to celebrate web originals, then the IAWTV Awards are a step in the right direction.”

Now that we know the winners, it appears voters wanted to honor nominees who have been supporting short-form video consistently for years, those who present a strong public face. Felicia Day’s The Guild won the top comedy award (unlike at the Emmys and Golden Globes, comedy gets top billing on the web) and a bunch of others. Some have griped about the Day/Guild supremacy, but the fact remains her show is still the sine qua non of web series success: from its low-budget roots in 2007 to its sponsorship by Microsoft and Day’s enormous popularity (check her Twitter), The Guild is the inspirational story. To this day when I interview creators from all different genres and backgrounds they cite The Guild as the reason they started making shows.

A screenshot from "RCVR"

Other winners have been steady advocates and quality producers for awhile, particularly Shira Lazar (What’s Trending) who regularly writes and advises about the web series form, and Machinima.com, which distributes long-running programs like Red v. Blue and solid new ones like Dragon Age: Redemption and RCVR, all of which took home trophies.

“Purer” indies like PrettyAnyone But Me and The Jeff Lewis 5-Minute Comedy Hour (Lewis is a Guild actor) were also acknowledged, and the latter two took home trophies.

Most of the other winners are known and respected names in the community but not much known beyond it, indicating the need for such a show.

The eventual impact of both the WGA and IAWTV Awards might be minimal — coverage of both has been somewhat light — but both are necessary. Despite some reports of light attendance and technical glitches at the IAWTV and other complaints I’ve heard personally about diversity, there’s no reason to think such “new media” awards can’t thrive and have a meaningful impact as (and if) TV and the web converge.

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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 Comment

  1. Madeleine Hannah January 22, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    hi – excellent read. Really touched on some great info and I enjoyed reading! Take care!