Back in April, The LeBrons, an animated series produced by James’ production company, Spring Hill Productions, and Believe Entertainment Group, debuted on YouTube and across the Internet. Based on YouTube’s public view numbers
, the show’s first episode generated over 1.2 million views, a pretty solid number for an original Web show backed by one of the world’s most recognizable stars. But like James against the Dallas Mavericks, the series has progressively cooled off. Episode 2 garnered about half that number. By episode 8, the show was averaging fewer than 200,000 views; the most recent episode, posted about a week ago, has yet to crack 65,000.
According to the Web analtics firm Visible Measures, when promotional clips are taken into account, the LeBrons has pulled in roughly 3.8 million total views to date. Per The LeBrons YouTube channel, the show claims 51,000-plus subscribers, and the nine episodes have about 3.1 million views. Sounds good, but compare that to a YouTube star like Shane Dawson, who regularly has individual videos that crack 3.5 million views.
What’s going on here? Actually, nothing out of the ordinary for Web video series, which is a major problem.
“The premiere generates a significant amount of interest, and then views fall off, taking a few episodes to stabilize,” said Visible Measures marketing head Matt Fiorentino. “
TubeMogul, the other major player in the nascent Web analytics space, tracked a similar pattern in the past 30 days. The LeBrons is averaging 36,373 views per day, according to its figures. The eighth episode garnered just 7.4 percent the views of the first, TubeMogul found.
If this was TV, the data would indicate LeBron has a flop on his hands. But the picture is murkier when it comes to Web series, which typically lean on syndicators to get their videos seen. Believe, for instance, employs Digital Broadcasting Group to spread The LeBrons far and wide online. In previous conversations backers of the show have claimed it has generated over 30 million views, which would place the show closer to hit status, although it’s unclear where those views occurred. Googling “The LeBrons” for instance returns mostly its YouTube channel and some smaller sites like hypebeast.com, which requires viewers to clip to play the show, and worldstarhiphop.com, where it autoplays when visitors log on.
Some would argue that one of the show’s problems is YouTube itself. While the show’s producers claim The LeBrons is aimed at young adults as much as kids — the show’s lesson-of-the-week themes seem squarely aimed at grade schoolers, who shouldn’t be on YouTube in the first place. Then, there’s YouTube’s inherent one-and-done viewership patterns. The home of millions of quick viral hits has yet to establish itself as an outlet for scripted series, an issue that Google is clearly trying to address with its recent overtures to Hollywood
. Add to that fact that James is not an established TV producer (not to mention his image has taken a tremendous beating over the past year).
However, YouTube-born stars with far less built in recognition than a global star like James have thrived. For example, the squeaky-voiced Fred consistently churns out new clips that result in a up to 10 million views each. At the older end of the teen and young adult spectrum, gaming-focused Machinima attracts millions of subscribers to its channels and regularly eclipses The LeBrons’ view numbers.
Executives at Believe and Spring were unavailable for comment for this story. DBG officials were unable to provide any information on how the LeBrons was distributed, leaving the question as to how much of that 30 million views number was compiled with autoplay videos in banners and on blogs that don’t require users to actively elect to click on video.
Nonetheless, it’s not as if LeBron would admit defeat. He’s said to be set to do a second season during his off season.