Saturday, June 15, 2013


I've noticed at recent YouTube,  2nd, 3rd, and 4th screen panels, and other such confabs that established YouTube stars are often unseasoned in the kind of linear storytelling basics that have driven compelling content starting with Radio and Serials. While YouTube "views" may be a good start, it's also been interesting to note that many of these Internet "storytellers" are targeting traditional media distribution as the eventual outlet for their content and careers. Another motivator is suggested by a surge of content producer backlash to Google's revenue share of its nascent subscription channel partnerships. Now that the inmates are running the digital asylum and capitalizing on self-distribution platforms, many pundits and companies are betting that the web will produce talent for other more traditional media.

But, there is a reason why newcomers to programming like Netflix, XBox, and Amazon TV have all hired former entertainment executives to develop their new series entries. And there is probably a reason that they are defaulting to known stars and producers to deliver them. At the same time, the creative agencies in Hollywood have legions of so-called "twenty-somethings" diligently scouring the web for emergent talent to scoop up for representation. The entertainment business is hard to forecast--despite Google's recent announcement that search results can predict weekend box office. As one studio executive remarked, "Duh..." Still, the average YT video is 2:46 long, so short-form is definitely king in terms of the standard issue web viewer and fifteen-second rich media banners are another indicator.

How much narrative can fit in such a format and does it drive sequential viewing like traditional long form? A generational shift has certainly taken place with access to multiple screen entertainment and hopefully it will yield new storytellers and formats. But, web storytellers should look at securing a foundation in what has made stories relevant on an ongoing basis ever since the tribal fireside, rather than engaging only in producing the latest novelty video. We're hopefully moving now beyond the cat videos that dominated early YouTube successes and the opportunities in a multi-channel distribution universe offer these newcomers novel ways of stepping up to the plate and potentially reaching huge audiences. There are other challenges.

I recall a well attended confab a number of years ago at the home of Buzztone Marketing head, Liz Heller, where a web video producer exuberantly proclaimed that his video had received over fifty-thousand "hits". I resisted the temptation strenuously to ask whether the scenario would have changed, had he asked viewers to pay for the privilege.

Even so, the behavioral shift in attention span has yielded an almost cannibalistic appetite on the part of users to novelty, rather than to what used to be called by network program executives, "appointment viewing". Google's addition of watching metrics, speaks to this trend because it essentially measures whether viewers are sticking with a video all the way through as opposed to merely grazing and moving on to the next recommendation by the engine, itself, or from their friends. Among older viewers, binge viewing has also had an impact in the way that traditional television series are watched. Time Warner invested over $30 million last year in Maker Studios and perhaps it will pay off. It also begs the question: does taking this level of investment mean that Maker is not making any money? Predicting the future in Hollywood--exciting as these expansive platforms and distribution channels are--may be better left for the time being to Las Vegas bookies.

(With props to Bill Sarine from Beachglass Films for input and inspiration for this post)

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