While the traditional media business is still waiting for Web video to enjoy its first big mainstream hit, the Web video world is quietly building a string of successful, enduring series right under traditional media’s nose.
The conventional wisdom in the media world has been that Web video is fantastic for viral, lightning-in-a-bottle type clips that are not repeatable. Series, particularly serialized shows, don’t work. Even in the case of high-profile series from top talent, the precedent has been: big opening, but no sustainability. Audiences, the thinking goes, are just not conditioned to come back to Web shows on a regular basis.
But Digiday found eight Web series that have been around at least a year that draw consistent sizable audiences. Typically these shows serve audiences that are not well-served on TV, like young guys and gamers. And, yes, the numbers for these shows are not always validated by third-party research. But they all tap into a Web aesthetic and interactive approach that’s on its way to defining popular culture (see accompanying sidebar on how). And most are nailing serious advertisers.
“Shows that think they deserve an audience don’t do well,” said Eric Mortensen, head of programming at Blip.tv, which helps nurture born-on-the-Web shows. “They tend to burn out and disappear. These shows have earned their audiences online.”
1. “Red vs. Blue”
The Pitch: “South Park” meets video games. This long-running series, launched way back in 2003, features video-game footage from Microsoft’s Halo, dubbed with irreverant, silly dialogue.
– 7 million views a month
– Launched in 2003
– 9 Seasons, over 180 episodes
– Episodes are featured first on Blip.tv, then YouTube
– Sponsors include JetBlue, Starbucks and even Presidential candidate Mitt Romney
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The PItch: Reminiscient of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” host Doug Walker speaks to the camera and delivers 9.5-minute ranty movie reviews of non-classics such as “Batman and Robin” and “Super Mario Bros.”
– 3 million views a month
3. “Day ”
The Pitch: A talk show for gamers, “Day 9” evokes cable access, in a good way. The show’s host Sean Plott plays games on camera and provides commentary, along with tips.
– 2.3 million views each month on Blip, 5 million overall
– Sponsors include Toyota, Constant Contact
This comedy duo has been on YouTube since 2005. “Smosh” consists of goofy, young-guy-oriented stunts/comedy skits such as “How to Cover Up a Murder” and “If Video Games Were Real.”
– 2 to 6 million views per video
– Sponsors include McDonalds
5. Ray William Johnson
The Pitch: Similar to best of Web video TV series like “Tosh 2.0,” “Web Junk” and “Ridiculouslness,” but with graphics and a lot of the host’s personality and attitude. Ray William Johnson is one of several Web video stars managed by Maker Studios, which also includes longtime YouTube comedy personality LisaNova (Lisa Donovan, one-time “Mad TV” cast member)
– 5-6 million views an episode
– 10 million unique views per month
– Launched just two years ago
– Google has sold ads for sponsors such as Foot Locker, Reebok, ESPN alongside Williams’ videos
6. “Epic Rap Battles of History”
The Pitch: The brainchild of the Web video producer Nice Peter, this show features imagined rap battles between famous or not so famous figures from history, such as a rhyme standoff betwen Billy Mays and Ben Franklin (“It’s all about the Benjamins,” says the pseudo Franklin.)
– 15 million views per month
– Franklin/Mays video has garnered 11.7 million views to date
– 259 million views to date
7. “Film Riot”
The Pitch: A do-it-yourself series moviemaking for effects and indy film junkies. Very similar to Next New Network’s now defunct “IndyMogul.” Want to recreate a severed head? Now you can.
– Averages around 100,000 views per episode
– Over 110,000 subscribers on YouTube
– Sponsors include Samsung, Sears, Netflix.
8. “Epic Meal Time”
The Pitch: Like “Film Riot,” a product of the digital studio Revision3. “Epic Meal Time” is an extreme cooking show is like the Food Network for men who don’t want to live very long. Lots of drinking, cursing and in-your-face bacon. A recent clip showcased an 84-Egg Sandwich. Seriously.
– 3-5 million views an episode
– Sponsors include Chobani, McDonalds
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