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November 14, 2007

Web TV Ready For Primetime? Not Yet, But Soon Enough

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With the Hollywood Writer's Strike continuing and the time drawing nearer for primetime TV to consist of nothing but repeats, the pressing question among media minds is whether or not webisodes are ready for primetime. One of the issues with series' produced solely for web-viewing is the length. Viewers watch TV primarily for the stories and telling a story in less than 5 minutes is, needless to say, challenging. I've finally had the chance to check out the first 2 episodes of Quarterlife, produced by TV veterans Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, and though the storyline consists of the typical coming-of-age teen angst found in shows cast with teens and twenty-somethings, there is an engaging story. The episodes, each about 10 minutes in length, are formatted a little differently than most web TV series'. Each episode was initially produced to be about 60 minutes long and then split into 6 separate webisodes. If the creators find that the audience can and want to engage for lengthier time periods, the pieces can then be reassembled fairly easily.

Not surprisingly, rumor has it that NBC is considering acquiring Quarterlife for it's strike programming. It is just a rumor though, as neither the network, nor the show's creators have commented on the authenticity of the rumor. But if it is true and it happened, it would be a momentous step for web TV. It would technically make it mainstream.

I'm still of the opinion that internet TV will not win out over traditional television anytime soon. Nobody wants to sit in front of their computer screen to watch an hour long show and the money just isn't there yet to entice content creators to produce engaging content. The real money will be made by the TiVo's and Sling Media's of the world that understand web TV's success is in bringing it to our actual TV sets. The low overhead costs to produce web shows, the ease of distribution, and the flexibility in content and storyline given to the creators without a giant bureaucratic network breathing down their necks is what makes it interesting for both the creators and the audience. Shows can be more risque and experimental pleasing the viewers and the ease to produce and distribute the content for the writer's and producer's are attractive features. An artist wants nothing more than to be able to spread her wings. That's the potential of web TV. Completely creative control over content by writers and producers, and content much different than typical primetime TV filling a giant unmet viewing niche. But it'll all still have to be transferred to our good old HDTV's. That part won't change.

Right now, internet advertising methods probably won't cut it for most Hollywood writers, directors, and producers. There is nothing effective enough to compete with a nice 6-figure Hollywood salary. But watch over the next few years, as internet advertising evolves into utilizing more effective revenue models, and creators realize the flexibility the internet offers them in terms of really exercising their creative muscles, they will begin to flock in increasing numbers to the net producing varied and engaging content. Then webisodes will be ready for primetime.

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Posted by Justin Davey at November 14, 2007 1:00 AM

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