Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Explosion of Webisodes

webisode -- n., an episode of a television show that is available for online viewing or download.

Let me ask you a quick question. Do you recognize any of the following titles?
If you've never watched
Burning Love, you're
missing something

  1. Web Therapy
  2. All My Children
  3. Drunk History
  4. My Big, Big Friend
  5. Burning Love
Perhaps you do, perhaps you don't. (But really? How many of us know the sad story behind what's happened to daytime soaps like All My Children?) All of these shows rank in the top twenty web series found online. You may not believe this, but there is a big presence online for shows like these and it's only growing bigger each year.

We all know the magic of YouTube, where anyone can record anything and slap it up there for the world to see. But did you know there's money to made out there if you're interested in writing webisodes? There are many online companies getting in on the deal -- Hulu, L. Studio, AOL, Fear Net, Yahoo, etc. This year was even the first year that a series not found on regular network television or cable was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Awards. I'm talking about Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright's show House of Cards that's found on Netflix. Yes, Netflix.

Kevin Spacey looking regal
and dastardly in his award-nominated

To understand how the idea of webisodes became big, I think one needs to first see why it's exploded over the past few years. With the use of the Internet and the ability to move content onto an online platform, the viewing public has been drifting away from traditional television viewing in this post-broadcast era. Gone are the days of having to catch your favorite show just as it airs (VHS, DVDs, TiVo, and DVRs have all gradually done away with that). Gone are the days of limited availability when it comes to what you want to watch on television (cable fixed that). And gone are the days when you have to wait until the next morning to gather around the watercooler and chat about that big ending on The Bachelorette (social media has done away with this). We live in an age where even the number of televisions in American households has decreased for the the second straight year according to the Nielsen Company reports.

I don't know about you, but I don't find this information overly surprising.

People today are using technology in a whole different way than they were doing thirty, twenty, even ten years ago. Going back to YouTube, see if you can answer this question: Have you ever used that site to watch a video of some sort? I know I have. I even watched a whole silent black and white movie there once, surprised that I was able to find it so easily. But this is exactly why the creation of webisodes have become so huge. Storytelling has been taken to a whole different level.

Even cats have gotten in on the action.

Webisodes allow for any and all to become their own filmmaker. It's a cheap arena for someone just starting out. Instead of writing a screenplay, moving out to California, schlepping around that screenplay in hopes that somebody will take an interest in it, the writer can consolidate his/her efforts and go straight to the web. Online, things can be done on an almost nonexistent budget with limited locations and local actors. There's no bigwig in Hollywood lording over them, telling them how to put the story together. And once they've finished? Voila! That simply shot footage can instantly be loaded online.

Of course, there is a bit of a catch.

Shows like House of Cards or Arrested Development aren't shows you'll find in those simple beginning stages created by amateur writers and directors. Like any form of entertainment, webisodes have evolved as well. Yes, they started out as a fuzzy video some guy shot in his mother's basement, but with the ever-increasing popularity of webisodes, they have taken on a form of sophistication. You're not going to make a lot of money nowadays slapping something up on YouTube (although there have been webisodes that have managed to grow beyond their YouTube viewing public), but it provides a stepping stone to something bigger. If you're able to garner an audience off of your simple videos online, chances are you might be able to snag the attention of someone higher up in the Hollywood food chain. And that could mean great things for you (perhaps not for your show exactly) and you may have the opportunity to move onto bigger and better things.

Looking back at the history of webisodes, I kind of compare it to the birth and growth of cinema. In the beginning, many films were made quickly and were of poor quality since the technology of the day was  very limited. Anybody could be a filmmaker in the beginning, if they had some sort of means to pay for the equipment. Talent was local and cheap. Sets were pretty rudimentary and not shot in exotic locales. But as time went by and the technology, the writing, and the talent improved, a whole new industry exploded and stars were born.

Have you ever considered creating and writing your own webisode? Are there any that you watch on a regular basis and would recommend?

Here's one last question before I go:  How many of you watched that cat video? Yeah, I thought so!


  1. I think we're in a second golden age of television. When I look back at the quality of what we were watching even 10 years ago and compare it to what's available now, it's amazing how much better the new stuff is. I haven't watched House of Cards but I plan to: it's gotten incredible reviews. Like anything else that's easy for amateurs to do, web television can be terrible—but there are pretty reliable ways to find the gold. I listen to NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, and they have regular discussions on new television shows. Right now they're all high on "Orange is the New Black," another Netflix original, so I've added that to our watch-list. Hulu has advertised a few intriguing-looking shows of their own making, too. My son is obsessed with "Video Game High School," a show that exists only on YouTube.

    While I would love to be part of a screenwriting team for one of these shows (I would LOVE that), I have no desire to write and produce my own show from scratch. I'm just too small-potatoes. The people who are making good shows have much more experience and power than I have.

    Great post, MM! Very timely.

    1. Thanks, Steph!

      I do think we're in a second golden age of television as well. Quality has changed a lot in the hundred plus years since the invention of film and taking it to the big screen, only to dial it down to the little screen. Quality has changed a lot in the last ten years, even the writing isn't as cheesy as some of the things I remember watching in the late eighties, early nineties. I think that's a very good sign that the industry is trying to create decent shows for us to watch. As to films, I might argue the opposite...

  2. I have to confess. I didn't watch the cat ep but I did think, man, there are a lot of those!

    I've been curiously observing how emergent technologies are affecting the status quo. Not much to say at this point, just watching and trying to learn. Agree with Steph, a timely post.

    1. Sometimes all you can do is watch and learn when it comes to new technology. Trying to keep up with all the new trends can be exhausting!

      There are a lot of cat videos. The guy in the video even says there's like 4.9 million cat videos on YouTube if you're interested in watching more!

  3. We actually bought a tv this year, so that we could stream movies onto a bigger screen. I went to Netflix & was about to watch House of Cards after reading all about it in my old-fashioned paper New York Times, but I got side-tracked into watching "Orange is the New Black," a streamed series produced by Netflix and Lionsgate, based on a book of the same name. OitNB is not for kids, but it is pretty amazing mature programming. It is absolutely a new kind of tv. The technology is moving fast. I like your analogy between early cinema and the YouTube generation.

    I haven't watched the top 10 cat vids, however I've seen all of Henri, the Cat Noir films! Hilarious.

    1. I've heard a lot about "Orange is the New Black", but have yet to watch any episodes. Netflix is really getting in on the digital streaming part of things when it comes to television-type shows. Funny that you bought a tv this year when sales are actually decreasing. Maybe that's a sign that people are sick of watching shows on itty bitty screens!

  4. I think You Tube is one of the greatest assets of the internet (it's also an irresistible time-suck!) I mostly watch videos of old TV shows, music videos, and of course, how-to videos for all kinds of things (including research for my novels!)

    As far as webisodes, I had no idea they were doing this with American shows (I didn't even know this word 'webisode'!!) In (a Spanish network in the US) they've had three or four websoaps (called webnovelas). The cool thing is that they use famous actors/actresses in the leading roles (in conjunction with lesser-known actors in secondary roles). The stories are pretty decent and condensed (MUCH shorter than traditional soaps) with small casts and a pretty good production (they look like regular soaps). Here's the English trailer of their latest (the video quality is better in the original website, but it's in Spanish).

    1. "The real race is a competition about love."

      Ha! Made me laugh, but yeah, this is where the soaps of all kinds have headed. I think it's interesting that they've found new life on the web. And it's really become a big thing. I'm always surprised at how many new webisodes seem to be popping up.

      And, yeah, YouTube has some great things when it comes to research!

    2. I think it's hilarious how he pronounces the "Rs" :D!!


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