There’s at least one thing The Walking Dead, Dexter, Torchwood, Battlestar Galactica and Lost have in common. Each of these television series have created on-line companion webisodes. Webisodes or web series are free, accessible, bite-sized episodes typically 2 to 8 minutes in length that expand on the show’s narrative and build up a loyal fan-base. Although it’s not a new phenomenon, the growing popularity emphasizes how networks are exploring different distribution models to capitalize on an audience that is transitioning from watching their favourite shows on the tube to experiencing their entertainment instantly online whether it be on their laptop, tablet or smart phone. But as networks develop strategies to attract a new generation of tech savvy consumers, drive website traffic, and generate revenue are they becoming an unnecessary middle-men?
Because of advancements in technology, affordability of equipment and accessibility of broadband internet, aspiring filmmakers can produce high quality web series with a small budget that may find an on-line niche audience and become popular enough to gain corporate sponsors. Actress/producer Eliza Dusku (Dollhouse, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who stars on acclaimed web series Leap Year and voice-over on the animated Torchwood: Web of Lies, explains, “It’s definitely more user-friendly and instantly accessible. I think there is creative cool stuff going on. You take out the middle man and the studios, even though I love the studios, call me? You get to really play, you get to really explore and have creative license and freedom.” So how can creative people work on projects they love, nurture a loyal fan base, and make money without involvement from studio executives or TV networks?
One example is how Avengers’ director Joss Whedon developed a new model where he is the studio and the writers and lead actors shared in the profits with his popular online three-part musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon revealed to Forbes, ”The initial investment was about $200,000. The budget with everybody actually being paid was about $450,000. With the movie and the soundtrack and everything we’ve been able to do with it, we made over $3 million with it”. Dr. Horrible continues to make money each year with comic book spin offs and DVD sales. The success caught the attention of The CW network which will be debuting the mini-series on prime-time television on October 9th, 2012, several years after it was originally produced. A sequel starring original cast members Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day is already in the works.
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