LA Times reported last week that many striking Hollywood writers are in negotiations with funders to set up production studios that would create content exclusively for the web, bypassing the Hollywood system completely. Maybe, though, they should put those plans on hold for a little while -- highly touted scripted web shows aren't doing so hot.The
The New York Times writes today about Marshall Herskovitz's scripted web show "Quarterlife." Herskovitz's is the Oscar-nominated producer behind last year's critically acclaimed "Blood Diamond," and has a pair of primetime Emmy's to his credit as well -- hardly a greenhorn when it comes to the film and television industry. The Internet, however, is uncharted territory, and so far things are not going so well for scripted shows online, says the New York Times.
"Some episodes of 'Quarterlife,' a drama about a group of good-looking people in their 20s, have yet to attract 100,000 video views, according to combined view counts from MySpaces video site and YouTube," writes Brian Stelter. "The low traffic numbers are significant because the series has been touted as the first television-quality production for the Web, as well as the first to be introduced online as a warm-up for its network debut." We reported in November that NBC was in talks with Herskovitz about "Quarterlife," and the network will begin broadcasting the show as a one-hour drama starting in February.
Earlier this year, Mediaweek reported on the success of Michael Eisner's high-profile scripted web show, "Prom Queen." Halfway into its 80-day run, the show had racked up 5.2 million views -- 3.7 million on MySpace, which was promoting the show. But its 90-second length doesn't leave much time for advertising on a traditionally ad-support medium.
Even Herskovitz wasn't impressed by Prom Queen: "'Prom Queen,' at its top, was doing 300,000 views per episode," he told the New York Times. "Three hundred thousand views on television would be quick death, but thats just the way the world is right now for scripted content on the Internet. Were trying to change that." But can he?
Everything needn't look so gloomy for scripted shows on the web. Clips of scripted bits from television are some of the most popular videos on the Internet. Before NBC moved it's famous "Dick in a Box" to Hulu, it racked up millions of views on YouTube and TVGuide even called it the funniest video online. Amateur parodies and live performances of it on YouTube are still getting more views than shows like "Quarterlife."
That indicates that scripted material can perform well on the web (further, look at the success of early scripted web shows like Ninjai or Homestarr Runner). However, just like not every show will do well on the TV (how many did NBC cancel last year?), not every scripted web show will be a hit. But due to shorter formats, quicker response times, and smaller production budgets, not every failed show need be a studio-sinking disaster, either. That means studios can feel more free to experiment with more radical formats and ideas on the web and see what sticks. I think the future is bright for original, professionally-produced web video content.