While I was working for Best Buy a year ago, I started to notice a growing trend. Every day I seemed to get an influx of customers asking of alternative ways of television. As a curious employee, I would ask why they wanted alterative; what was a matter with what they had already? The customers would usually reply with dissatisfaction with prices and originality of television today. They also added that they spend the majority of their time watching shows freely online. I personally found this intriguing and started looking at how much time I actually spend on my computer versus watching TV. I found that even when I had the TV on, I would eventually direct my attention towards shows on YouTube. With this instance in my head, I was eager to write this research paper to find out even more about the growing transformation of a new mass medium. In this paper, I will elaborate on the rise of web television throughout its own history. I will provide evidence of revolutionary events and people who have changed the way we use the internet today.
It feels somewhat trivial to discuss the history of something whose history is very brief. In under a decade, web series has gone from a rather amateur state to a very successful industry. According to a survey found on scriptmagazine.com, not until eight years ago, there were only a handful of Web sites that were devoted uploading web series and other videos through the web. Out of the few that were uploading videos, “Icebox” and “Atomfilms” were among the first. Unfortunately, due to the slow speed of internet and the tedious internet accessing known as “dial up,” their audiences were relatively small. Additionally, during this time, starting up a web series was very difficult to get off the ground. Creating videos were expensive to make and equally as expensive to stream. To make matter worse, there wasn’t any major advertising companies that would help support these videos to make them profitable. With lack of funding and not enough support, many of the early websites would be deleted. However, according to the survey found on scriptmagazine.com, small groups of film, art, music, and comedy enthusiast found the advantages of uploading their videos to the internet in the early months of 2005. The noble fact about this is that these groups were not in it for the money. Many of these groups shared their skills merely to make a name for themselves. Although they technically were not considered a web series, the Lonely Island group was probably the earliest notable pioneers of using the internet to become known to the world. Their comedy series led to many awards accomplishments to its own crew. Interesting enough, most of the crew (including the now famed comedian Andy Samberg) were hired by Saturday Night Live to help fuel the show. Later, Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell (another famed comedian from SNL) performed in short video called “Lazy Sunday,” which was directly uploaded to fairly young site known as “YouTube.” This new site possibly has this video to thank due the amount of popularity it drew to their new video uploading site new site that made it easy to post and share online videos. The almost instant rise in popularity of the young YouTube site allowed for many to discover their own talents and way for them to share these talents to everyone. This truly was a revolutionary mile stone for social media and the beginning of web television. This also caused a slight dispute with major Hollywood businesses mainly because they didn’t know what to make of YouTube. However, this did not stop people from uploading home movies to personal video blogs known as “vlogs.”
In 2006, web videos at the time tried to stick with the short and sweet method. Typically, anything that was too long was considered not worth watching. Many small entertainment groups were looking for their big break in online video but very few saw an immediately profitable future. This was due to the lack of a consistent viewer audience. During the rise of YouTube, many amateur videos became very popular and grew in the numbers. At that this day and age, almost everyone has a form of camera, making it easier for anyone to make videos. Most the videos were just regular funny home videos, but a few videos would become “viral.” Video Bloggers became very popular at this time as well. Not designed to be a very high budget production, vlogs were simply meant to be a short video of someone sharing their point of view or personal ideas. Vlogging and other amateur videos were essential to the history of the web television because this was first established reoccurring videos that viewers could watch. One of my favorite video blogs would have to be the “AskANinja” series that became one of the best comedy parodies on the video blog concept. The series has raked in millions of viewers and continues to gather fame even among the hungry eyes of Hollywood.
While digging up some research over the history of Web Television, I stumbled on to some information of an early attempt to funded web series site. This first known funded website was known as “Bud TV” which was launched by Budweiser back in 2007. Unfortunately, the site fell short to deliver and was decommissioned shortly after. According to a review found on “gigaom.com,” It stated that reason it failed was due to having content that was only suitable for adults and required that the viewer prove he or she was 18 or older. This was a step that alienated many viewers. Fortunately, for other smaller website, this event allowed them to learn from Bud TV’s mistakes. Additionally, according to the information found milkeninstitute.org, around this time Hollywood was experiencing a writer’s strike, which in turn allowed for many Traditional media companies and viewers to begin looking online for their content.
In 2008, one of the most successful web series was created. “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” became a huge favorite amongst all other web series at the time. The series was created by the director of the famed shows Firefly and Buffy the Vampire slayer, the none other, Joss Whedon. The show was produced with a small budget; however, the show did manage to star Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion as the main antagonist. Additionally, the lack of budget increased the uniqueness of the story and enhanced its popularity. The success of this web series gave web television in general better credibility that it needed. According to the time line on Hulu’s website, to follow the rise of popularity, major corporations, such as Fox and ABC, started to upload older episode of their TV show on a new website known as Hulu. It has since become a very popular website where viewers can watch past TV shows and original Web series alike. Shortly after, many other networks also followed suit on bringing their shows to a growing web audience. Interestingly enough, big name shows like The Office, Battlestar Galactica, and 30 Rock also started to have episodes that were only aired on the web itself. Although these episodes usually only starred a smaller cast, they would grow to be some of the fan favorites and inspire many other industries to follow this design.
While looking through history of web television, I see an even bigger bloom in growth in the 2009. This is due the speed of the internet becoming much faster and can accessible almost everywhere. The high light of that year is that large group of industry experts created the International Academy of Web Television which would showcase the top voted web shows or “Streamys.” Just being released a year before, the Dr. Horrible Sing- Along-Blog won most of the categories. Its success at that award show helped keep the medium extremely relevant.
Throughout the year of 2010 till today in almost 2013, the world has seen more growth, more production of web television. Big name brands started to take their approach towards the successfulness of web television. Products such as Google TV or Apple TV hit the market as a means for people to not only access their regular TV network but also access the web at the same time. Gaming consoles have also taken their success with online gaming to allow their consoles also access the World Wide Web. Gaming consoles such as the Xbox360 and Playstation not only provide internet access, but they have also become a medium themselves, in which web television has become their voice.
With all of these transitions towards the web, television may become a threaten medium in the future. However, the TV industry is still makes 70 billion dollars a year which the online industry just hit one billion dollars last year. Still making a huge profit, traditional media will be around much longer and may learn from the growing success of web television. This adaptation may actually be starting already with shows like Children’s Hospital or the Annoying Orange show that were once created as a web series and has moved on the main stream television. To quote Aymar Christian, who wrote on the success of Youtube, stated that “for the past few years the Web has been described as the “Wild West” of media, but as business models have evolved, it seems like there’s a little more structure to the world.” With Aymar’s faith in innovations, I hope this means that we will see many more revolutions in technology and mass communications in the future.
3. Production and Distribution
As you have read, most of the web shows produced, even the ones directed by big names in the film industry, were very cheap. This allowed for millions to try their hand in creating their own shows and post them for the world to see. With all this talent be broadcasted on the web, many major industries and directors looking for new talent, do not have far to go. Many famous names today got their start though web shows, including Andy Samberg and Justin Bieber. Web shows have been distributed directly from the producers' websites or online video sites such as AtomFilms and YouTube.
AtomFilms was or still is an internet based entertainment network showcasing original short movies, animations, and web series by amateur creators. The group was created in 1998 and went on to become one of the first go to websites for web shows. Their success did go unnoticed; in 2006, AtomFilms was bought out by MTV and continued on to become part of Comedy Central today.
Created by three former PayPal employees in 2005, YouTube has gone a long way since its beginnings. Like AtomFilms, YouTube displays a wide variety of independent videos. This included “Hollywood” movie clips, television show clips, music videos, and again, a wide variety of amateur created videos such as video blogging, short original videos, and educational videos.
Most of the content on YouTube has been uploaded by individuals, although media corporations including CBS, the BBC, Hulu, and other organizations offer some of their material via the site, as part of the YouTube partnership program. In November 2006, YouTube, LLC was bought by Google for $1.65 billion, and now operates as a subsidiary of Google.
Hulu is now a famous website which streams video of day old TV shows, movies, webisodes and other footage from many other networks. Learning from past web television websites, Hulu has a fully intergrated AD supported system that allows a steady funding. Hulu has also become a main source for those who have canceled their television service and use Hulu as a means to keep up with their shows.
4. Known Examples
Red vs. Blue is probably the first web series and first video I ever watched on YouTube itself. Red Vs. Blue is a comedic parody series based on the Halo video game franchise, created by Rooster Teeth Productions. Red vs. Blue was created by using voice-over and prerecorded gameplay videos of on the Microsoft Xbox and Xbox 360. The series followed the machinima techniques of other videos seen by using synchronizing video footage from a game to pre-recorded dialogue and other audio.
Series did so well that seasonal DVDs were released due such a high demand for them. Initially the series intended to be very short; the project quickly and unexpectedly achieved significant popularity following its Internet release on April 1, 2003. Praised for its originality, the series has won four awards at film festivals held by the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences. It has also won the award from "Best Animated Web Series" from the International Academy of Web Television. The series was credited with bringing new popularity to the YouTube channel “machinima,” helping it to gain more mainstream exposure, and influencing more people create their own videos that matched this art form.
Ask-A-Ninja is a comedy series that parody’s the form of vlogging or podcasts by featuring a “ninja” who answers questions about being a ninja. Each episode usually lasts four to seven minutes, and always ending with the Ninja’s signature sign off by saying "I look forward to killing you soon!" due to the popularity of the series, various television shows have featured the ninja himself as a guest star. Shows like the Mythbusters featured the Ninja in episode where the team is trying to debunk old myths about ninjas. Additionally, in 2007, Forbes.com listed the Ninja as one of the top "Fictional Celebrities" on the web. According to an interview, Ask A Ninja was originally supposed to be an animated show about two Ninjas living in Orange County. Ironically enough, the show eventually did produce some episodes that were completely animated. As a final note, in an interview with Forbes.com, the creators stated that they would like to see a great interface with new media and traditional media. Co-creator Douglas Sarine also stated that “Our goal is to give not up on Hollywood, but help Hollywood transition to new ways of distributing and new ways of generating content from the internet to feature films.” This quote is essentially the answer to my thesis of my research paper.
Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager is a comedic web series created by Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan which parodies Star Wars. The show's central character is Chad Vader, the day-shift manager at the fictional supermarket Empire Market, who doesn’t fit in well with the staff. Initially produced to be a show for a local station in New York, the project was canceled after only two episodes were released. However, the creators decided to continue the story and upload it to YouTube. The show has received several awards, including an Official Star Wars Fan Film Award, which Is a high honor for a Star Wars fan.
Matt and Aaron have been Keynote Speakers at a number of events including Comic Con, The Writer's Guild, Dragon Con, Fan Expo Toronto, and more. I personally have sat in on one of their panels at Dragon Con, where I have learned several points of how they got started. Additionally, I learned how this series opened several doors for the creators due to its success. One of the most notable doors to open is the position offered to Aaron Yonda by LucasArts. With an upcoming video game being produced, LucasArts needed a voice for the famed Darth Vader. Generally, most fans would have thought that LucasArts would have chosen the original but expensive voice actor, James Earl Jones. However, they decided to go with Aaron Yonda because of how strikingly similar his voice was to the character. Furthermore, Aaron has now played this character for LucasFilm on several different projects, and is probably every fans dream come true.
“Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” is a live action video web series that is set in the universe of the Halo franchise and is also ground breaking history for web television. The series was created for the promotion of the new upcoming game, Halo 4. This has been Microsoft's largest investment in any live-action promotion they have ever done in the past, with almost $10 million spent on creating the series. YouTube’s channel, Machinima Prime and Halo Waypoint would had a new episode each Friday leading up to Halo 4’s release on November 6, 2012.
Aside from the marketing stand point, it was stated in Halowaypoint.com that “the goal of the webseries is to introduce the franchise to people unfamiliar with the games.” 343 Industries franchise business management director, Matt McCloskey, stated to Variety.com that they wanted “to make Halo accessible for people who haven't played the games. We wanted to do something unique from a narrative standpoint that's big in scale."
5. The Voice of Gaming
Halo ranks among the most successful game franchises in history, and Forward Unto Dawn among the most expensive web series to date. Not even a month has gone by and each episode tops some of the most videos on YouTube. Both the Halo franchise and this new web series stands as a monument to YouTube’s present and future as a next-generation television network.
As you have read throughout this research paper, you have noticed YouTube’s slow progression to a full-fledged network. YouTube has come a long way from a place for pirated media content to its present day version as an alternative to television source for people. Unlike TV, YouTube could claim to be helping the little guy. YouTube has been a place for original content. Over the years, initiatives like the Lonely Island and Red vs. Blue gave a steady stream of cheap marketable videos. More and more critics are starting notice the amount of profit that site is gaining which is shifting the balance of power in favor of large distribution networks and corporate producers. This can be seen through the Dr. Horrible Sing-Along-Blog and just recently with Halo: Forward Unto Dawn. Even if you have never played Halo or heard of it, Forward Unto Dawn is entertaining and puts the SyFy channels original movies to shame. From the cinematography, editing, and acting, the production was more than ready to be a mainstream television show. One might ask how the YouTube Channel; Machinima could have taken on this massive project. Quite simply, it already has a massive marketable audience, which film and television studios find difficult to target. Gaming is a mass medium, and growing stronger, yet no real television network exists for them. G4 television comes close to mind, as it offers reviews on new games and other video game content. However, they have yet to obtain such scripted dramas as Halo: Forward Unto Dawn. It makes sense, then, that some of YouTube’s best original dramas come from Machinima’s Prime channel. The network is skilled at convincing brands to spend millions to reach an audience increasingly dissatisfied with television. As proof of their threat to traditional television, the week after Forward Unto Dawn concluded, Battlestar Galactica‘s antcipated prequel, Blood and Chrome, premiered on Machinima Prime. Furthermore, Machinima has also proven itself as a hot spot for investors. YouTube chose Machinima as its largest direct investment; a $35 million dollar investment to be exact.
Amusingly, the word “machinima” is actually a combonation of the two words “machine” and “cinema” and is defined as “the process of creating real-time animation by manipulating a videogame’s engine and assets.” With all these investmentments, Machinima has created a company that takes gaming to a new level of entertainment. According to Machinima.com, the company has accumulated the work of about 4,000 directors to date. In an interview with digitaltveurope.net, the CEO of Machinima, Allen Debevoise stated that Machinima is also co-developing original series with traditional content providers including Lionsgate. “We’ve developed a platform that can really deliver an audience.” Ultimately, we will see Machinima rise as one of the first channels that truly represents the growing mass medium of gaming. I do not doubt that we won’t see more web series of the same caliber as Halo: Forward Unto Dawn in future.
In my conclusion, you can easily see as time goes on, technology will advance which will change the way we receive our information and entertainment. I have elaborated on the rise of web television throughout its own history. Additionally, I have provided evidence of revolutionary events and people who have changed the way we use the internet today. So what does this mean for the future of traditional television? Will it become obsolete and change like the newspaper did when the radio was invented and in-turn the radio when the television came around? I would like to think as the Ninja, that this does not mean the end, that this means a new beginning for new ways of generating content from the internet to feature films and television shows.
6. Work Cited
· Albrecht, C. (2009, 02 19). R.i.p. bud.tv. Retrieved from http://gigaom.com/video/rip-budtv/
· Christian, A. (2012, 11 11). Youtube’s fading ‘halo’. Retrieved from http://tvisual.org/2012/11/11/youtubes-fading-halo/
· Hall, E. (2010, 08 03). Short film or web series: Which is best for the emerging filmmaker?. Retrieved from http://voices.yahoo.com/short-film-web-series-which-best-emerging-6518662.html?cat=40
· GUSTAFSON. (2010, 08 12). A brief history of the web series. Retrieved from http://www.scriptmag.com/news/a-brief-history-of-the-web-series.
· Informa Telecoms and Media. (2012, 03 30). Machinima to launch prime, prepares for first youtube ‘upfront’. Retrieved from http://www.digitaltveurope.net/22678/machinima-to-launch-prime-prepares-for-first-youtube-upfront/
· Klowden, K. (2008, 06). Writers’ strike of 2007–2008 the economic impact of digital distribution. Retrieved from http://www.milkeninstitute.org/pdf/writers_strike.pdf