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Friday, September 6, 2013

Minimum Viable Web Series

This post comes from Jeremy Campbell who's the Founder and President of Spidvid.

I love reading a book or two per month! I recently read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The book's core premise is that startups should build a minimal viable product (MVP), release it, get feedback, learn, iterate, and rapidly shape the product towards establishing a solid product-market fit.

How this methodology applies to web series project development is that perhaps you shouldn't create many episodes in a series, or develop a full web series until you know it will work and get traction. A minimal viable web series (MVWS) if you will.

So maybe instead of writing a script for an 8 episode web series, you should write pilots for 4 potential shows, produce those one by one starting with the one deemed to have the most potential first, see which one of them resonates best with viewers, and then develop that particular series fully. Pilots are a good way to learn about how your viewers would like to see the story develop (and if the story is strong enough to move forward in the first place), and which characters are liked and which ones aren't.

This is something to think about, always try to do extraordinary things but minimize the risks associated with developing original content. Create something fast, release it, learn, and you should have a better idea of what can work longer term.

And of course by all means, if you're passionate about a story and want to see it all the way through then go for it because nothing feels better than creating something you love. If a topic or subject makes you feel good inside, then go for it no matter what others may say to you. 


  1. This is actually one of the most economical ways to approach production, but there is a downside - building an audience for a web series is a monumental task - we're all aware of the process, and it could take months to gain any real traction for a series. If you launch 1 episode, you run the risk of losing your initial audience while trying to build - the monster needs to be fed. After 2 or 3 months, you run the risk of alienating the initial viewers - you have to keep their attention. Is there anyone who can give any insight on retaining an audience for several months without releasing new episodes? I'd love to hear some feedback on this... Thanks!

  2. The key is the cost structure and design of the production.

    If you take a TV approach and do not have a TV budget then more than likely you are doomed. There are exceptions of course, but for most that is true.

    The Web offers you many new ways to approach "content". The key is to figure out how to shape all the possibilities into what will tell the story that wants to be told in a context that will interest and engage people on the Web.

    Think of the Web as a blank canvas and start painting, but understand the medium you are using is "alive" and not static like TV.

  3. That's true Johnny for the most part. I think most web series have the most views on their first episode, the more views and engagement the better. I understand that viewers get engaged in the story over time, but for the most part views on episode 2 drop way off, but true fans stick around for the long term. In my opinion I think it's smart to create a few pilots to see what gets the most traction then develop the one which does.

    That's true though if you release 1 episode then don't release any more for weeks or months later then you do risk losing viewers forever. Maybe a call to action at the end of the pilot episode to get viewers to subscribe to your channel, to offer feedback, to voice their opinion if developing a full season makes sense would be a good idea.

    Behind the scenes content is good too to lead up to the release of episode 1. Most web series creators try building an audience with the release of episode 1, but look at TV shows, do they build buzz months before their shows are released, or wait until the show's debut. Barely any web series creators allocate a marketing budget, they just want to push their content out and send out a couple tweets and updates and hope for the best. Marketing money should account for at least 1/3 of a total web series budget in my opinion, most series spend $0 and "it shows."

    Just some food for thought, thanks for the discussion gentlemen!

  4. On the Web it is quite possible that thinking in terms of "episodes" is a flawed concept. It is important to think in terms of engagement and participation. It is important to think of building over time. The Web does not start and stop like TV episodes. The Web is a "continuum".

    I have previously described this by comparing it to growing mushrooms. First you prepare the "matrix". Then you "spawn" the matrix and let it spread organically. Finally, once the spawn has spread through that matrix it "buds" into a mushroom, and then over time as the growth continues within the matrix, mushrooms continue to bud.

    Think of your videos as the mushrooms that bud when the conditions are right, but remember you first have to prepare the matrix and allow the spawn to spread through it.

  5. I think the reason why people tend to create buzz with their pilot is because we've seen so many series's that never get past the trailer stage that the press and in many cases, the general public is jaded. (I remember when Tubefilter announced that they won't run stories on series's that only have a trailer anymore because they had been burned so many times.) Now compound this with limited budgets and you have a web space that more often than not has a "show me" attitude.

    I've used trailers, press releases and other ideas to get the word out for my projects in the past and I don't think there is a sure thing either way. With Venus Spa, I had 2 trailers, (often 2 trailers per season not counting promos hyping the finales,) before the first episode. This definitely helped us get traction going in. With Chad's Angels, this method wasn't nearly as successful.

    With our 'Ninjas...' series, it's an ongoing series of episodes that are released "when they're done". They are all one-off videos but are linked to a general theme. (Same protagonist, similar mission.) This time I didn't use a trailer but did send out press releases and buy ad space in areas where my target audience congregates. The result has been a strong start in terms of views and a lot of new subscribers.

    I don't think you need to have a big budget, nor do I believe that failure should mean losing your home. Roll up your sleeves and work to build that audience and you will be rewarded with an engaged audience.

    1. I would agree that its a lot of work to build an audience especially early on. This has not changed since lonelygirl15 which did not just happen. Those familiar with the series will remember the two videos that came before the first Bree vlog. These videos reflected a huge ongoing effort to engage with the larger YouTube community.

      Now since then platforms have changed, but I would contend that the need to invest heavily in "participation" and "community engagement" before you get into your main story is still as significant.

      The notion that the Web is just like TV but online has done a lot of harm because while this might work for a few, it misses the many unique opportunities for "the little guy" that the Web medium offers. But taking advantage of these opportunities requires a huge personal investment in relevant Web communities. No pain, not gain.


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