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Why “Views” Don’t Matter for Indie Web Series

Aymar Jean Christian August 12, 2014 Video Comments Off on Why “Views” Don’t Matter for Indie Web Series
Why “Views” Don’t Matter for Indie Web Series

You’ve probably never heard of “F to 7th.” A spin-off of “The Slope,” a Vimeo-based series about “homophobic lesbians,” “F to 7th” is a New York indie TV show from Ingrid Jungermann, who financed the recently-concluded second season with a Spike Lee production grant from New York University (where she received her MFA).

To me “F to 7th” is one of the best web series out there, yet most episodes of its second season have just 2,000 to 3,000 views. Aside from niche publications like “Bust,” “AfterEllen” and “SheWired” — the latter two being dedicated web series supporters — no major media organization has written about, much less reviewed, the second season.

So I feel provoked to ask:

How do you know if a web series is worthy of attention?

With Netflix and Amazon producing great, full-format series, critics are struggling with how and whether to review web content. This week “New Yorker” TV critic Emily Nussbaum, in her important review of the indie hit “High Maintenance,” opened her piece explicitly addressing this conundrum:

Every few months, I spelunk into the world of online indie television. It’s nearly always a disappointment: most series, even those which have managed to Kickstart up some hype, are half-baked and amateurish—more audition tapes than real productions.

For Nussbaum, “High Maintenance” is the pinnacle of indie TV, comparable to “Louie,” “Girls,” even “Enlightened.” I agree, obviously, which is why I named it, alongside “F to 7th,” the best comedy web series of 2013 in Indiewire. Other “hyped” series can’t compare. “High Maintenance” is art, but the series took some time to build its audience. Most episodes have between 100,000 and 200,000 plays today — a very respectable number for a series hosted by Vimeo, but rather low compared to YouTube’s most popular franchises.

YouTube, with its prominent viewcounts, shapes how fans and critics watch web video. We expect and want the best web video to be seen by millions. But the reality is more complicated. I argue that critics would find more series worthy of review if they looked beyond the “hype” and regularly followed the web series market, as opposed to just spelunking in.

Consider “Broad City,” another series Nussbaum has lauded. I first started writing about “Broad City” when it was a web series, and most episodes had about 10,000 views on YouTube. Some had less, some more. They were shot on the cheap, guerilla-style. Any critic dropping in might immediately discount them as unprofessional. Indeed, very few TV critics reviewed “Broad City” during its web series days.

But “Broad City”‘s fans recognized Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as storytellers who were trying to do something different, even if the images and sound weren’t as crisp as corporate television. Glazer and Jacobson didn’t care about views or having millions of fans. They were telling a story, one that eventually caught the eye of Amy Poehler, who helped bring the show to Comedy Central. With more money for production, “Broad City” is now a critical hit, one of the top shows on cable and has been renewed for a second season.

Writing for my personal blog last year, Glazer said “virality” is not a significant measure of art. “We were able to experience and understand how, exactly, the way in which our show was popular,” she wrote. “‘Broad City’ is not the type of project that produces viral videos… We got quality, one-step-at-a-time character development and universal-yet-specific situations inside of a cinematic-yet-casual aesthetic space. Again: this. ain’t. viral. shit.”

For the full article, with a review of F to 7th, click over to Indiewire.

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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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