Tim Stone’s review of the current state of WebTV posed the question - is WebTV a new form and if so, what is the evidence? Over the last week I’ve been assessing projects for a new program to promote WebTV as a native format. This has really focused my thinking on what makes a good pitch for a WebTV project. Here are my top 8 tips. |
Length – shorter is better. Web TV was born in the early days of the web when watching long videos was a frustrating experience. It’s developed in a space where attention spans are short, especially if views are happening on a mobile platform. Sure, things are better now, but I still think the best web content is short and pacey.
This is ridiculously extreme, I know, but have a look at Five Second Films. Yep, Chinatown it aint, but it’s a truly web experience.
Different from, but related to length is Pace. WebTV is not a “put your feet up and veg out” viewing experience so beloved of watchers of broadcast TV. It’s the quick laugh, the sight gag, a shock, a fright or a mental jolt while you are waiting for a train.
That’s not to say it all has to be run at the pace of a Chuck Jones cartoon, but lingering close-ups and dreamy montages don't work on Web TV.
Webness - ephemeral and hard to define, but crucial. It’s knowing the memes, the meta-ness, the references and being hip to a web aesthetic. Web TV is not the place where bad ideas for TV shows go to die. Irony, parody, rant, reflexiveness, circularity, location awareness are its currency.
Audience – Some will and some won’t, but viewers must be given the chance to interact with the content creators. Early experiments with multi-path, user-selected narrative, “choose your own ending” and so on haven’t really worked, yet. That’s not to say that they won’t. Success of programs shouldn’t rely on input from one or many audience members, but some sort of call to action from the viewer, some sort of invitation to connect with the content creators is essential.
Originality. The web is a place of ideas. Freed of the shackles of conventional broadcast gatekeepers, content creators can tee off. A conventional soap or sitcom won’t be different just because it’s on the web. Originality is at a premium.Closely linked to originality is:
Cost. Lets talk about the the sitcom fixation. Picking a sitcom format for a Web TV show makes sense on a cost basis. After all, broadcast TV honed the sitcom conventions (reusable elements, limited locations, small cast) to deliver the cheapest possible content over a long period of time. WebTV is very much the poor cousin of the other media when it comes to funding from agencies and other investors (especially in Australia). So I can understand why the sitcom/procedural/soap format is attractive to Web TV creators. But Web TV needs to go cheaper! Even fewer characters, less locations, lower production values. The idea stripped bare. Of course Bryan Singer's new series briings new meaning to the word cheap.
Doablity - A pitch has to convince potential backers that the project is doable with the tiny amount of money available for WebTV at the moment. If broadcast TV spawned cost-effective forms like sitcoms, how can Web TV creators strip budgets down even further and still deliver something satisfying? Developing a proposal that looks like a $300,000 an episode TV series and hoping to make it for a few thousand dollars doesn’t make much sense, no matter how many favours you might be able to pull. Crowd funding could get you something in the tens of thousands, enough to shoot a decent pilot of something that looks like it’s going to cost lots of money, but if a few thousand is all you have, it needs lots of clever planning and ruthless pruning to get something good.
Jerry Seinfeld’s WebTV series Comedians in Cars getting Coffee looks simple enough–two guys driving around in one of Jerry’s cars–but if you look carefully you can see that it’s an expensive production. Multiple camera angles, decent lighting and so on. Nonetheless, I can see that series being made for a few thousand dollars and being even funnier.
Embrace the Niche. Web audiences aren’t defined by demographics like 18 to 24-year-olds. It’s more like 12 to 18 year-olds, female, players of The Sims. A tight demographic like that gives license for all manner of references, in jokes, running gags and insider knowledge that makes a web series unique.