Twelve web series to check out

Announcements for new made-for-broadband web series launches now seem to be a weekly occurrence (NB: So far this week we have Freshers’ Week and Gamerzine TV).

Among the stream (pun intended) of new shows, gems can get overlooked. I’ve therefore collected 12 web series that I think you should go and have a look at. I’ve stuck to scripted entertainment shows, and have excluded TV spin-offs (so no Battlestar Galactica: Resistance, despite its awesomeness)

In the finest tradition of blogging, I haven’t done my full research. I haven’t seen all of the shows listed below – sometime because I am unable to (if someone knows a work-around involving proxy settings or URL extensions that lets me pretend I am in the US, please let me know) and sometimes because the show does not interest me.

[Reading that back, that doesn’t sound like a particularly solid recommendation. However, we all have different likes and so – location and preferences permitting – I suggest you nevertheless go check them out.]

I’ll disclose when I am talking from a specific position of ignorance [Insert joke about general position of ignorance].

Click the title to be taken to the homepage for the series in question. Click the video (for 9 of the 12 series) to take a look at what I’m talking about.

Lonely Girl 15

The web phenomenon. In June 2006, an unsuspecting Youtube-viewing public were first exposed to the video diaries of Bree. Using the sign-in name of Lonelygirl15, her video blogs allowed her to vent her angst over the minutiae of her everyday life.

Except she had no everyday life. She was fictional.

After a couple of months of online speculation and investigation, proof that Lonely Girl 15 was in fact a young New Zealander called Jessia Rose Lee was found. Highlighting the cultural frenzy that was generated, the story was in part broken by both the LA Times and New York Times.

Once the game was up, the show became more overtly ficticious. A fantastical storyline involving an occult conspiract was introduced, and it also became the first web series to incorporate product integration.

After cast changes, three series, 378 episodes and over 110m views, the show has finally come to a close. Kate Modern followed within the LG15 universe, and it won’t be long before the next series is launched.

I’ve only seen the odd episode of Lonely Girl 15, and have no real desire to watch any more. Particularly those involving melodramatic conflicts against religious extremists. However, the cultural impact cannot be denied and it is worth checking out the early videos to assess their relative authenticity.

The Guild

Written by and starring Felicia Day (aka “Her from Buffy”), this is a lovingly crafted look at a guild of World of Warcraft players. Despite living in close proximity, the six people of the Guild have never met in person. Until one encounter sets off a chain that requires the whole Guild to get involved in order to save the day.

It is funny in a quirky, observational way rather than laugh-out loud, but I was charmed throughout the ten episodes. Codex, Vork et al are certainly rooted in real life, and never become full-on caricatures.

Funded in part by viewer donations, Series 1 has won multiple awards.

I still have no desire to actually play WoW though.

Afterworld

Afterworld was heavily hyped when it first came out – unsurprising when you realise Electric Farm Entertainment/Sony put up $3m for the first series of 130 episodes. That adds up to around six and a half hours worth of content…. After debuting on Bud.TV and Youtube, it has made the tradition to broadcast TV, with episodes aired on both the Sci-Fi channel and Channel 4.

The story follows Russell Shoemaker, who wakes up in New York to find nearly all technology dead (a shame, since that is what he sells) and 99% of the human race missing. The series follows Russell’s journey back to Seattle.

Moody and introspective, the dissolving graphics are striking and the slow pacing (if not the inconsistent voice acting) has drawn me in (I’m twenty episodes in, and trying to find the time to watch more).

You Suck at Photoshop

As well as being highly entertaining, this show is also extremely informative. I have learned a LOT about Photoshop by watching this. However, the main attraction is that it is hilarious.

The show is narrated by Donnie – a sad, bitter, misanthrope. His attempts to prevent the world sucking at Photoshop are frequently thwarted by either his wife or his WoW buddy Sn3tchbuckl3r.

You Suck at Photoshop was set up by a couple of creatives at Big Fat Institute to promote My Damn Channel. They succeeded. Big time. The show has been a phenomenon, and after a fan backlash it has returned for a second series.

Where Are The Joneses?

Where Are The Joneses? is an “interactive comedy”. Produced by Imagination, written (in part) by Baby Cow productions (owned by Steve Coogan and Henry Normal) and funded by Ford, the “interactive” element refers to the plot (partly) being crowdsourced. Viewers were able to submit plot ideas and the underlying script would be improvised to incorporate them. Interestingly, and refreshingly, the series was also released under a Creative Commons licence. This allows people to both remix and re-edit the show, even for commercial uses.

The story follows Dawn Jones. Dawn discovers that she is the child of a sperm donor, and so drives around Europe (in her Ford, obviously) tracking down her siblings.

While an interesting idea, I’m not sure how successful it was. I only saw the first couple of episodes, before slipping away. And it appears I’m not the only one. This blog reports that viewers of the episodes were only in three figures, while the proposed DVD hasn’t materialised.

However, things are rarely done correctly the first time of asking, and this form of brave experimentation in turn inspires further adventures. Indeed, according to this blog post from one of the producers, the Open Rights Group are looking to make a case study out of the production.

Street Fighter: The Later Years

College Humor produced this funny look at the Street Fighter 2 crew 10 years on. Dhalsim is driving a cab, Zangief is a Janitor, Vega is a jobbing actor – you get the idea. The series contains some brilliant verbal and visual jokes. Click through to find out what happens when the old gang get back together.

Beyond The Rave

Beyond The Rave is the Hammer studio’s first foray into Horror for other twenty years. Rather than going for the classic schlocky feel, this series aims straight for the Myspace generation. As well as being hosted on Myspace TV in HD format (not that my monitor can tell the difference), it is shot using the tight framing and jerky cameras so beloved of contemporary action scenes.

However, Beyond the Rave does follow in the fine B-movie horror tradition by not being very good. Actually, that’s harsh. It is a perfectly fine genre film, but I wouldn’t call it a great show nor go out of my way to watch it (again). I’m sure Horror fans would enjoy it though. And the inevitable sequels.

Stephen King’s “N”

This isn’t strictly a web series, but I’m including it as it is so fantastically realised.

“N” is the only previously unpublished work from Stephen King’s forthcoming anthology “Just After Sunset”. The story has been depicted as a “graphic video”, drawn by Alex Maleev, and coloured by José Villarrubia. I believe that Marvel will be releasing it as a comic book next year.

The aesthetics are the real highlight, but it is an intriguing story (thus far) and has reminded me why I devoured Stephen King books in my teenage years.

The Cell

The above link points to the Fox website, which currently only hosts the trailer. The Cell (or Cell, as it may have initially been called) was originally a made-for-mobile production, produced by Endemol for O2. It was all filmed using green-screen technology, with high production values as the business model was always to sell the programme across platforms and markets. This Fox deal represents both.

I’m afraid I’ve not seen any of this, as my mobile phone isn’t adept at handling video of any sort. Given the paucity of information available online, I wonder if anyone has seen it? Watching it via Fox therefore presents the opportunity to get ahead of the curve, albeit 9 months after launch

Gemini Division

Aside from the trailer, I’m yet to see this series yet either. The reasons being that the first episode only came out last week, and that NBC are limiting distribution to the US only.

Produced by Sony and Electric Farm Entertainment, as with Afterworld it comes heavily hyped. Having Rosario Dawson star and incorporating tech-based product placements (Microsoft, Intel and Cisco) have also contributed to the buzz.

The plot appears to be a hybrid of Alias and the X Files, which sounds right up by street. And with early reviews giving it a tentative thumbs up, it will be definitely be something I’ll be watching. Once I’m allowed to.

Coma

Another new series, with only the first episode being released so far. Early signs are encouraging. The languid pace, limited dialogue and good use of music all worked very well. It will be interesting to see whether the pace changes as the plot develops.

The remaining six episodes will explore how Lennox ( Michael Madsen), a crime boss, was shot after plotting with the Mayor to bring down the city’s crime boss.

As well as Michael Madsen as an above the line name, George Hamilton and Tony Todd also appear. It is sponsored by Sony Vaio and distributed via both mobile and the Internet – including Crackle, Sony’s online video portal. Interestingly, the full series will be given away on a Blu-ray DVD in magazines in October, along with music from Sony BMG and content from Sony Pictures.

Now that is what you call joined up thinking. Kudos to Sony for leveraging its different elements for an interesting experiment in content marketing.

Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog

As this is only three episodes long, one could debate whether it is a full series. However, it is my list and I’m including it.

I absolutely love Dr Horrible. Anyone who has seen “Once more, with feeling” – the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – will know what to expect. Engaging characters, witty dialogue and fantastic songs. Whether it is the above-linked “Laundry Day”, “A Man’s Gotta Do”, “Brand New Day” or “Everyone’s a Hero” – all are incredibly catchy and all have been stuck in my head ever since I first watched it.

Just under 45 minutes in total, the show sees Dr Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser fame) attempt to both join the Evil League of Evil and woo the girl from the Laundry (Felicia Day, “Her from Buffy”, again). However, his nemesis Captain Hammer (Nathan “Firefly” Fillion) stands in his way.

Initially broadcast for free over the web, it is now on Hulu and iTunes in the US only. Which is annoying. The DVD will be forthcoming though. In the meantime, there is always this Dark Horse comic to get you in the mood.

As you should see from the above list this is a medium ripe with invention and experimentation, and I am getting quite drawn into it all. Whether big-budget and professionally produced or DIY, there are plenty of quality shows out there. And these are just the ones that have caught my eye.

If you have any suggestions regarding other web series I should check out, or any comments on the above shows, I would love to hear from you.

sk

Links – 27th August 2008

Another shorter list. Rather than my getting more clinical in pruning bookmarks, I believe the main reason is that the Internet gets a bit quieter in August (and I’m posting this earlier in the week).

Blog-related:

Seth Godin upsets direct marketers – by suggesting that if we click ads on sites we like, we can up-end the status quo and marketers are forced to improve conversion rates. I disagree with it – if I’m clicking through with no intent to purchase, then a snazzy landing page or a special offer isn’t going to change my mind. But an interesting thought nevertheless

Age Concern are looking to reclassify the silver surfer with research findings from Equi=media – I agree that 55+ is an impossibly broad target, but then does the same thing not also apply to 16-34s, ABC1s or housewives? However, I do concede that they are an overlooked market, and the study does contain some useful statistics

Nike have admitted asking the Chinese government for details on a blogger who posted what Nike insists are false claims regarding Liu Xiang pulling out of the Olympics – I’m not sure where I stand on this. If it were written in print, Nike would no doubt sue. But anonymity is currently a right of bloggers, and privacy should not be co-opted after the event.

Can the British make money from blogging? The discussion started on Techcrunch UK, and then the BBC picked it up. An interesting debate, at least until the name-calling began

The ten most shameless product placement plugs in cinema (Cracked)

What Facebook’s engagement activity means to brands – as always, an informative summary from Jeremiah Owyang. Personally, I’m not liking the fact that I’m getting brand gifts from people who I’d previously marked as spammers. I assumed that had blocked them from sending me invites and gifts. Unless the price is right, I guess.

Will crowd-funded journalism take off? (NY Times) I think not – there will be too much conflict between editorial independence and proprietor opinion/interference, no matter where the delineations occur

The BBC iPlayer is going to offer series-stacking (press release) – great from a consumer perspective, but it will be interesting to see whether Ofcom has anything to say about it

Websites:

Pixlr looks like a very good in-browser Photoshopesque image editor

Youtube sunshine – profane comments are replaced with a touch of sunshine

The Orwell Diaries – updated in real-time, 70 years after the original entry

Ubiquity – a new, intelligent, add-on in Firefox that interprets an instruction and takes the appropriate action. A bit like Google Calendar. So, if I typed “Twitter I’m playing with Ubiquity”, the programme would upload that Tweet to the system. Looks incredible.

Recom.me – a Twitter tool that sends you music recommendations based on the artist you Tweet to it

Random:

Photos that changed the world – awesome collection of history-defining images (EDIT: Link fixed)

How your printer pretends it is out of ink – and how to get it working again (Slate)

A Freakonomics look at Usain Bolt and other sports records, and how they relate to a normal distribution curve. The title says it all – Usain Bolt isn’t normal

A fantastic graphic showing athletics world records over time (NY Times) – you can see that there was also a brief period in the 1960s where the average speed of the 200m record was quicker than that of the 100m record

An interactive map of history’s great journeys (Good Magazine)

This week my double recommendations go to What Facebook’s engagement activity means to brands, Pixlr, Photos that changed the world, Ubiquity and A fantastic graphic showing athletics world records over time

sk

Classic Blog Posts #3

Faris Yakob on Transmedia Planning.

The crux of this notion is that brands can capitalise on our converging culture and media consumption by introducing non-linear brand narratives. In other words, different media can host different elements of a campaign. Each element works on an individual level, but by combining them can give a synergistic  (SIDENOTE: I had initially favoured synergetic but spellcheck and Google overruled) result that is greater than the sum of its parts.

It is an absolutely brilliant thought. Faris expanded on it in his essay for the IPA Diploma, which deservedly won the President’s Prize.

That is by no means a slight on the other essays submitted. Reading through the other two essays published (by Graeme Douglas and Isabel Butcher), as well as the synopses of the remaining papers, shows a depth of interesting propositions.

For additional reading, Transmedia planning was cleverly expanded upon by Jason Oke, who suggested incorporating social relationships for that extra level of interest. Incidentally, Jason has since left Leo Burnett and can now be found blogging here.

Each of these links is incredibly thought-provoking, and they come with my highest recommendation

sk

Links – 21st August 2008

I’m trying a shorter list this week (though it is still 19 links). As this study (study 1) indicates, sometimes people can be overwhelmed by too much choice. This represents the fine cuts of my week’s reading.

Everything I bookmark can be found here. Let me know if you would prefer a long list in the weekly update.

Blog-related

Excellent analysis of Google Ad Planner Data vs. Comscore (Battelle Media)

David Armano has uploaded his visuals to Flickr

The presentations from Internet World have been uploaded – read my review here

Debate over the merits of Eurostar funding Shane Meadows’ new film (Guardian)

Ten fascinating potential future user interfaces (Smashing Magazine)

Brain rules for presenters – Garr Reynolds reviews the Brain Rules via Slideshare

Ten things to love about Blip.fm (Crack Unit)

The Economist on the relationship between sport and the media

Websites

Typosquat24 – look at used and unused squatting sites (e.g. goggle.com)

International Segway Polo Association – a future Olympic sport?

Google minus Google – search without Knol and Blogger results

Compfight – a Flickr search tool

Random

Lifehacker’s Top 10 How-to videos – I’ve watched the t-shirt folding video about twenty times and am still amazed by it

Analysis of the speeches during the US primaries (The Atlantic)

10 social psychology studies looking at irrationality (Psyblog)

The New Statesman’s faith column has an interesting series of Falun Gong

Has the uncannny valley been overcome? (Times Online)

Tyler Cowen considers the economics of tipping (Marginal Revolution) – the comments are particularly good

15 images that, amazingly, aren’t photoshopped (Cracked, with their trademark humour)

All are worth reading, but I would particularly recommend Google Ad Planner Data vs. Comscore, David Armano’s Flickr, Debate over the merits of Eurostar funding and Brain rules for presenters

sk

Free Baby Free

Richard Laermer has made his new book 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade (click through for the Amazon link) available as a free download.

Divided into 9 chapters and 77 sub-chapters, it offers a funny and irreverent look into what we can expect in the coming years.

Well worth a download scan (force of habit), in my opinion. Go to the Free Baby Free website, fill in your email address and it will be sent over.

sk

Blog Action Day 2008

Blog Action Day 2008 will take place on October 15th.

This is the second annual event. Last year the topic was on the environment. This year it is on poverty.

To quote the organisers:

Blog Action Day is an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion

Global issues like poverty are extremely complex. There is no simple, clear answer. By asking thousands of different people to give their viewpoints and opinions, Blog Action Day creates an extraordinary lens through which to view these issues. Each blogger brings their own perspective and ideas. Each blogger posts relating to their own blog topic. And each blogger engages their audience differently.

First and last, the purpose of Blog Action Day is to create a discussion. We ask bloggers to take a single day out of their schedule and focus it on an important issue.

By doing so on the same day, the blogging community effectively changes the conversation on the web and focuses audiences around the globe on that issue.

Out of this discussion naturally flow actions, advice, ideas, plans, and empowerment. In 2007 on the theme of the Environment, we saw bloggers running environmental experiments, detailing innovative ideas on creating sustainable practices and focusing audience’s attentions on organizations and companies promoting green agendas. In 2008 we aim to again focus the blogging community’s energies and passions, this time on the mammoth issue of global poverty.

Go the the Blog Action Day website if you wish to sign up. I was the 2,050th blogger to sign up, and that number is expanding all of the time.

If you are in the position where you make money from your blog, there is also the option to back up words with actions, with the opportunity to donate or micro-loan your blog earnings for that day

sk

How do you make money from online video?

That is the multi-billion dollar question facing content owners and distributors. Both in form and execution, how can one best monetize (SIDENOTE: should I be spelling it monetise?) this brave new frontier?

Evidently, there will not be one fix-all solution. Different video formats will be better suited to different models. Broadly speaking, there are three formats – TV shows or films as catch-up or VOD, specific made-for-broadband content, and user/consumer generated content.

There has been some research into this area. Work Research carried out an interesting qualitative piece into how people use different forms of online video content (though they segmented the market into catch-up, boutique and snippets), and which type of advertising would be most appropriate.

Furthermore, this chart from Ipsos MediaCT shows that the public have widely different levels of acceptance towards advertising depending on the type of content. However, we are still a long way from accepted formats.

With that in mind, here are some of the options that those in the sphere find themselves deliberating over – both advertising-based and non-advertising based. Multiple options can be used in combination, though one has to consider the extent to which users will be accepting.

A: Advertising models

1: Pre-rolls: The non-skippable adverts that play in-video before the content begins. Many of the big players utilise this method. Despite its acceptance, there is no consensus on the best length of pre-roll. One factor would be the length of the clip – who would want to sit through a 30 second advert to see a 20 second short? Even with longer-form, one would think that shorter (10-15 second) pre-rolls, would work best, but some advertisers are loath the pay the product costs of converting their 30 second TV spot and so these often appear. There is also the question of whether consumers will accept several short pre-rolls

2: Mid-rolls/post-rolls: Not as common as pre-rolls, these cut through long-form content (often mimicking a break as if one were watching on TV), and appear after the content has finished. One might question who would watch post-rolls, since the desired content has concluded, but data suggests that direct response advertising works better as a post-roll than as a pre-roll. This makes intuitive sense, since people would be unlikely to click through while they wait for their video to start, but one has to be careful to ensure that enough people hang around to view the post-roll(s).

3. Sponsorship idents: Sponsors of TV shows may negotiate a similar deal (or have it included in the original deal) to have their continuities included in the online catch-up or made-for-broadband spin-offs. I can see this being an area of growth as scheduled, online-only programmes increase in frequency.

4: Product placement: Currently banned on broadcast TV in the UK, this is where an advertiser pays for their brand or product to appear in a show. Big business in the US, the UK restrictions don’t extend to online. Prop placement, or product plugging, where products are provided for authenticity but no money changes hands, is currently allowed on UK TV, and so in theory this can extend to paid placements online. The LG15 group (who produced Lonely Girl and Kate Modern) seem to be pretty hot on this.

5: Brand integration: A step up from product placement, this is where a brand or product is incorporated into a storyline. To take another Bebo example, The Gap Year looked to integrate brands into the storyline. Advertiser funded programmes, or in-programme live ads, could fall under this banner.

6: In-stream advertising: The next big thing? Youtube toyed with it, and Sky look to be implementing it soon through Adjustables. It is where little strips (like the Sky Sports News ticker) or corner animations advertise brands while the main content continues to play. US TV stations use this to advertise upcoming shows. The trick is for it not the too intrusive. See this in-stream advert during Family Guy as an example of how not to do it.

7: Surrounding white space: This is unlikely to be used on its own, as CPM rates for white space are much lower than they are for online video. However, interstitials and superstitials (full-screen ads before and after a page is visited) could possibly be used as an alternative to pre and post-rolls.

B: Non-advertising models

1: Subscription: Where fee indiscriminate to consumption is paid. It could be purchasing a series or access to a walled garden where the video is but one feature. In some ways, the most popular catch-up service in the UK uses this model, depending on how you view the licence fee underpinning the BBC’s iPlayer.

2: Purchase: Where individual episodes are purchased, such as through iTunes. This is unlikely to be viable unless the show has a serious profile, either through having already appeared on TV/in the cinema, or featuring well-known celebrities.

3: DVD: The programme may be available online for free as a barebones show, but a DVD release brings together extras and behind-the-scenes looks. This is the model that Beyond The Rave will be using, though I think it is most likely to be used in conjunction with other models e.g. Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog is available via iTunes (purchase) and Hulu (advertising).

4: Merchandising opportunities: I’m not aware of any specific examples of this, but if Dr Who can sell merchandise by the ton, there is no reason why a made-for-broadband show cannot. Speaking of which, I wouldn’t be surprised if physical Dr Horrible comics are released.

5: Events: This would be an attractive option for the online expert. There are many stories of bloggers making money from lucrative speaking gigs as a result of their blogs (Content marketing) – I’m sure this can apply to vloggers

6: Get bought out: Alternatively, one could forget about a business model. Concentrate on finding an audience first. So long as there are venture capitalists, the business side can wait. And if you are successful, someone can buy you out, and you won’t need to worry about it. It’s worked for some people.

Interesting times lie ahead. Whether it is through industry-adopted standards, or research “proving” the efficacy of a solution to a format, at some point a consensus will (hopefully) emerge.

In the interests of exhaustiveness, I’d be grateful if anyone could point out any options that I have overlooked in the above summary.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29607812@N08/