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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I read in today's Playback that Stratford, known for its theatre festival, is launching a digital media festival. Banff keeps sending me promo material about their digital media festival. Is anyone actually making money off digital media? I mean, aside from people in the festival business?

Part of the problem is, presumably, that people expect things on the Internet to be free. They'll tolerate banner ads, and even ads at the beginning of a video, if they have to. But advertising doesn't scale well. The really lucrative ads are corporate sponsorships, and you have to be a smash hit, à la Têtes à Claques or 30 Second Bunny Theater, to get it.

People also seem to want things on the Internet to be short. Anything longer than, say, 6 minutes feels interminable on the Net. I hate to watch TV shows on my computer, though I'll happily watch the same shows on my TV. On my computer, I keep wanting to go check the Wikipedia or read news articles about Miley Whatsername that I don't even really care about. It's like the computer actually hurts my attention span.

Lots of producers are out there trying to figure out the Internet. They rarely intend to pay you. Because it's a new business, they generally want you to "invest" your time in the project, so that at some later date you'll get a chunk of the huge windfall your little flash animation or whatever will generate.

Sometimes old school producers will try digital media just to show they're hip. The results are often Quarterlife.

There doesn't really seem to be a business model here, is there? Just wildcatting.

Anyone know anything different?



For me, I do agree that for most clips on the internet, I don't have all that long an attention span, but I also watch all my television episodes on the computer. I think it's the difference between stumbling across something and planning for something. If I'm surfing the internet, I don't particularly want to spend more than 6 or 7 minutes watching something because I have other things I want to do, but if I decide I want to watch an episode I've downloaded, then I settle in for an extended viewing. I usually sit down on the couch and put my laptop on a table, so it's not the same as sitting down at the kitchen table.

I think a lot is the setup. If you have a desktop, is it really set up for extended viewing, or is it setup for sitting and typing? A laptop is more portable and can be setup anywhere, but the screen is usually much smaller.

By Blogger Tim W., at 4:17 PM  

I wouldn't say that it's profitable, but it seems like a good way to get your stuff out there and start making a name for yourself. I think it's becoming the TV equivalent of short films.

There's been a couple webisodes that I've come across that aren't half bad. One, The Guild, is about a group of online roleplaying dorks, and is actually generating buzz. I read about it in Scr(i)pt recently.

By Blogger Trevor Finn, at 4:32 PM  

What Tim said.

Internet media shouldn't be focused on only 6 minute clips, because you cannot do much with them. Red Vs. Blue is an example. It had a story and such, and was produced very well, but there's no way anyone is going to say 6 minute Red vs Blue clips are better than, say, 22 minute Red vs Blue clips that allow for a more fleshed out story.
I mean, Lost would be garbage if it was 6 minutes per episode. Even sitcoms cannot survive on 6 minutes per episode.
Certain kinds of shows work fine with 6 minute episodes. Cartoons often have 6-10 minute stories, and 2-3 of them per episode.

I know random videos will only be watched if they are around 6-7 minutes, but the future of new media is not 6 minute clips of randomness. People just like watching 6 minutes of crap, funny stuff, music, or whatnot on youtube. People do NOT like watching 6 minute episodes of House, Lost, Galactica, or The Office. People like their 42 minute shows the way they are -- some people just like to watch stuff on their computer instead of their television set.

The internet is also, as Trevor mentioned, a good place to create cheap media and get your name out there. However, the goal will still be to get on teevee or in the theatres. It's not that there isn't money in the internet, because there is, but not exactly for serialized shows.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:44 PM  

It's about being able to move watchable stuff from the Internet to your TV via TiVo, AppleTV, etc. etc., in my opinion.

I can get stuff through AmazonUnbox (movies, TV episodes,etc. . .including 1st and 2nd generation Doctor Whos) for an OK price on the TiVo. On top of that, it gets downloaded pretty much High Def or whatever really great quality there is.

If the wife didn't have whatever that service is that you pay monthly and get DVDs sent to you to borrow (and we didn't have all of BSG to watch on DVD), I would probably use Amazon Unbox A LOT MORE. Every once in awhile, when I'm pretty bored, though, I'll see what I can find on Amazon Unbox.

And no, I'm not a bot. Amazon Unbox is just a great service that bridges the whole "Digital Media" divide by letting you get it for your TV rather than just your computer.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 5:29 PM  

Netflix! That's the borrowing service I was thinking about.

I just also realized that I don't watch enough DVD material to make Netflix more cost effective than Amazon Unbox on my own. That's why the latter would work better for me.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 5:38 PM  

Personally, I can't wait until iTunes/Apple TV fulfills it's potential, and does it in Canada, as well. The idea of being able to rent/buy movies and television episodes and download them to immediately watch on your television is a great one. I've almost completely stopped watching television and have become accustomed to not scheduling my viewing habits around when a show is on. I simply download it and watch it at anytime. Obviously it's similar to TIVO, but I don't have to remember to record the show in advance.

What is this going to do to the networks? And is this going to make independent programs more accessible? It's certainly going to be interesting.

By Blogger Tim W., at 10:48 PM  

Of course, anybody can already do that via torrents, and if you don't have a nielson box you're not really hurting anybody.
Of course, it's illegal, and Apple TV is a legal way to download television episodes. It isn't, however, new.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:05 PM  

Drawn By Pain

... is a web series that has been getting some buzz, and it has a passionate fan base.

One business model for the internet may be to create "qualitative" fan development as opposed to "quantitative."
When you have passionate fans, they will chat on your web site's forum (generating more hits), and they are more likely to buy your DVD.

How many television series have been rejected because the audience was too small? If you can cater to a passionate niche, the likelihood of profitability goes up, though you are dependent on generosity and not sheer numbers.

Here is a link to an interesting article in Conde Nast Portfolio about how online advertising companies have avoided the recession so far, because companies are demanding more and more precision out of their advertising dollars:

As others have said, getting your content out there is a lot better than just writing a spec script or two that goes straight to the recycle bin. Not much money there.

Fellow readers are welcome to check out my blog to see
the series I've been developing for two years. I'm pushing for a September debut, and I'm actually beginning to look for writers now.

By Blogger Aaron Carver, at 1:27 PM  

I understand that there's a niche for internet media as a whole. However, cheap internet shows are not an alternative to television and film and I doubt they will ever be. The only internet shows I can see getting any real attention are either very well made ones (TV quality) or ones made by studios.
Yeah, there's a niche market for indie shows, just like how there's a niche market for indie films. However, once one becomes successful on the internet, they'll move on to television. Isn't that the whole point?

The internet is a stepping stone. Even good internet shows don't get much acclaim.

Regarding the forums, you can create forums for anything and get "hits". However, producers likely don't care about how much hits you get on your discussion forums. People talk about anything on the internet, and everybody knows this. Also, your forum won't have much traffic unless your show has something to talk about, ala Lost.

Personally, I haven't found any of the internet shows I've seen to have the quality required to suck me in and demand my attention and devotion.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:08 PM  


I agree that forums are probably not that important, although they could help sell dvds or high def downloads by increasing loyalty and community.

If most successful web series will go on to television, I guess that answers Alex's question "Is anyone actually making money off digital media? I mean, aside from people in the festival business?"

A similar question might be, "Are any unconnected writers making money in the spec script business, besides authors of how to books?"

Another thing that cheap internet series can have in their favor is independence from corporate sponsorship, a factor that influences development departments, obviously.

Another point - Imagine if Joss Whedon didn't grow up on the set of Happy Days with J.J. Abrams, and didn't go to Wesleyan University, and didn't waltz back into Hollywood.

If he was unknown and created Buffy or Firefly as a low budget internet project in 2008, wouldn't he still gain a cult following and sell a crap load of DVD's independently?

Drawn By Pain will have that kind of underground success, whether or not it ultimately gets picked up for TV. It's also shot in HD, making the DVD appeal even higher.


... is an example of a successful web series that just got picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel, and they're in negotiations with a Canadian network as well. I'm just mentioning this for the greater conversation, and it should be noted it was pretty high budget and created by TV veterans.

This is a good topic of discussion.

By Blogger Aaron Carver, at 3:45 PM  

Like I said, if the internet is only an alternative way to show people what you can do, it's not an alternative to television.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:01 PM  

Internet-based deliver will become relevant when fiber-speed broadband becomes more widely accessible to every day users. Until we don't have to sit through 15 minutes of buffering to watch 6 minutes of decent definition content, it's not a viable delivery method, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be looking at what capabilities the internet affords consumers of creativity. IMO (to keep with the spirit of the topic).

By Blogger Dave Mowery, at 4:04 PM  

And there's no point to shooting down the writing of spec scripts. Of course nobody makes money off of them.
Jumping in and making a show right off of the bat is definately not the most intelligent thing to do in all occassions either. Try telling a film writer to write an internet show and see if he gives a darn.

Heck, if you have game, you won't need to write an internet show. Sometimes an internet show can only go so far into displaying what you can do. I know I'd be far more comfortable showing people spec scripts rather than telling them I created Drawn by Pain, which I think stinks (no offense to anyone).

The internet is a great place for little internet shows, but to say they are going to take over television shows is ridiculous. The internet is a medium in which people can be discovered, so they can move on to television or film. It is kind of elementary in the grand scheme.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:06 PM  

I wouldn't diss spec scripts. A fair number of writers break in with them. Some may be agents' assistants when they do, but that's not "connected" in the Joss Whedon TV-aristocracy sense.

You make money on specs in two ways. You can sell them for big bucks, or they can work as samples. I never cashed in big, but I never would have been hired to write anything without all the specs I wrote to start out with. And I was certainly not connected.

I don't think Joss would have had a success with Buffy on the Web. He wouldn't have had Sarah Michelle Gellar, or Alyson Hannigan, or David Boreanaz. He wouldn't have had creepy cinematography, or even the cheesy special effects that he did have. He would only have had good writing. And that only gets you so far.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 4:25 PM  

That's my point. Of course you aren't paid to write spec scripts, but you aren't paid to write, cast, shoot, and distribute an internet show either. You'll only make money if you're lucky and if your stuff is very good, and one can say the same thing for someone who writes spec scripts.

The internet is still tainted with an air of novelty, and the only way I see the fog clearing up is if high-quality entertainment begins to be made for it.

And, at the end of the day, 6 minute clips a good show doesn't make.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:31 PM  

The whole point is that in the next few years the two screens will merge. iTunes + Rogers On Demand.

We'll be able to watch any show or film on demand. What I want, when I want it. No waiting for it to arrive in the mail or collect bits. No remembering to set the PVR. Pay for one show/film at a time or pay a monthly fee for all-you-can-watch, or something in between for subcategories.

Watch some indy stuff for free, at a resolution a gazillion times better than youtube. Click to send them a micro-payment. Or subscribe for a small fee to an aggregator/ taste-maker that has collected the "best of" for me, and the profits are shared among the content creators.

Watch it on my flat wall screen or bluetooth it over to my laptop to take with me to the bed or the train.

As for indy film versus indy internet "tv", the "low budgets" involved are very different. One is in the hundreds of thousands to low millions. The other can be paid for in a single cash withdrawal at the ATM.

By Blogger Polly, at 4:31 PM  


I don't think anybody said "web shows are going to take over TV shows."

However, money is beginning to be made off some web series, and if the production costs are next to nothing, that means profits.

Before television, you could go into any five and dime store and buy short stories and novellas from a vast selection. These writers weren't getting rich, but they were getting by doing what they loved. I really think a similar era awaits for web television.

The business model will be different, and most likely non-union. Or, the unions might eventually care enough to make standards for no-budget web productions, where union members are allowed to work for deferred pay and only receive a percentage of future profits generated - A percentage that makes it worthwhile for the producers and doesn't take all of the profit.

The next generation of televisions will be coming out in the next year or two, and they will all have a more advanced version of Apple TV built in. You'll be able to watch internet video in your living room, which will eliminate some of the problem Alex and many others have with watching internet video.

When friends come over and you want to show them a cool clip on youtube, or a cool new web series, you won't have go to the office or bedroom and huddle around a computer. You'll be able to stay right in the living room and pass the remote/keyboard around while everybody proudly shares the latest videos they've discovered. Higher bandwidth will only add to this phenomenon and the sale of internet equipped TVs.

Think how many niche markets there are that don't have a cable network. Think about how Seinfeld almost didn't get made, and how Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared got cancelled in their first seasons, etc, etc.

The current television business model is deeply flawed and everybody knows it. The internet will actually help improve the quality of regular TV because edgier product will get developed online that the networks were afraid to take a chance on themselves.

How many new comedies are we going to see this fall and winter about Perfect Consumers (boring, upper-middle class urbanites) in perfectly calculated living arrangements, who want to find a different girl every episode when they get home from their banking jobs. Oh, and there's that Indian buddy with the funny accent. I bet he's got something stupid and funny to say! Merck, Citigroup, and Exxon are going to love the new shows, but they'll be canceled after 4 episodes.
But maybe we should start writing our specs.

Another factor affecting the future of internet entertainment will be the drop in price of CGI. That web show Sanctuary used CGI backdrops for 90% of the shots, and these backdrops will be used more and more at less expense.

By Blogger Aaron Carver, at 4:52 PM  

I think that the business model for web viewing will be the same model that cable TV will be using as the veiwership continues to fracture into smaller and smaller groups. I agree that fiber to the home will start "internet TV" sites that will have the ability to show a picture rivaling what cable delivers. Bandwidth is everything. Why do it now? I think it could be a cool calling card, and I think Quarterlife is a good example on how to get enough buzz to get noticed. There are a lot of shows that aren't made due to executives not believing they are viable. This medium takes the executive out of the mix and places it into the masses. If you are discovered and get the following then you have a hope. I'll now get off the soap box and return you to your regularly scheduled comments, already in progress.

By Blogger Michael, at 5:05 PM  


I know spec scripts are definitely a worthwhile venture, and important to the development of writing skills. But I also think writing original pilots and plotting out entire seasons are important skills, whether or not they are produced for tv or the web.

I get the feeling that too many young writers spend too much time tweaking lines of their House or Ugly Betty scripts that nobody will read, when they could also be on a constant search for a fresh concept for a series. Such a search would lead young writers away from page 17 of that spec script and out into unknown neighborhoods and cultures, and into new books and magazines that might not directly help that spec script.

I know producers are beginning to value spec pilots more and more as writing samples, and that is a very positive development. As web television becomes more and more feasible, and young writers have even more reason to expand their base of knowledge and experience, our culture will benefit significantly.

Also, those spec scripts are indeed more valuable when you are an agent's assistant, but how the hell do you beat out the other 500 applicants, after upending your life and moving to L.A. with all the other waiter wannabes? Most every success story I hear about was an Ivy Leaguer with an elaborate alumni network to tap into. Getting those assistant jobs seem as tough to get as sweet wall street internships, which seem to require the same level of connections.

I know you share some of this bitterness, because I heard your radio interview in which you explained why you left L.A. You said selling a show seemed to depend on living in exactly the right multi-million dollar neighborhood, while sending your kids to the right $30,000 a year elementary school, while going to exactly the right parties with your network exec spouse.

I'd love to hear some stories of some guy from Nebraska who sent a query letter to an agency, sent his spec script with permission, got representation, and landed a writing job.

Usually it's the Harvard grad who moved to L.A. with $10,000 from his parents, tapped into his alumni network, went out to all the right clubs, landed the assistant job, and 5 years later got a writing job from a Harvard grad showrunner. Am I totally off the mark?

Regardless, I know spec scripts are important, and we all really appreciate your blog and your advice Alex.

As far as Joss and Buffy, I was talking about if he had created it in 2008. Big difference, as the cost of HD and CGI have come down somewhat. That theoretical would be even more realistic in 2010, as the business models are more refined for small time investors to feel more comfortable.

I'm enjoying this discussion, and thanks for starting it.

By Blogger Aaron Carver, at 5:21 PM  

You're clearly very bitter towards television, an understandably so, but you're going off the mark with the 'Harvard grad' thing and such.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:37 PM  

I agree, undoubtedly too bitter. I think playwriting is actually a very effective way to get noticed without connections or pedigree.

The book "Created By" is very good, and has extensive interviews with many top show creators. Of those in the book, Alan Ball, Shawn Ryan, and Tom Fontana all got noticed as playwrights. Stand up comedy is another way to get noticed on one's merits.

By Blogger Aaron Carver, at 6:08 PM  

As far as a Sarah Michelle Gellar caliber actress being available for a 2008 creation of Buffy as a web series, the highlight of her career before Buffy was All My Children. The good writing of Buffy made her career, and especially if the theoretical, unconnected Joss offered the 2008 equivalent of SMG a percentage of any future profits of web Buffy, he would be able to cast the show and make a star out of her.

By Blogger Aaron Carver, at 6:24 PM  

Man, the 2008 version of Buffy would be so much better simply because the FCC said it was OK for Alyson Hannigan to be naked on TV. =b

By Blogger The_Lex, at 3:27 PM  

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