READER QUESTION: How Do I Pitch or Distribute My Web Series?

Hey, screenwriters—

Today’s question comes from John… who actually sends in several questions, so I’m gonna spread them out and answer them one at a time.

So, first up, asks John, “what are the outlets for showing a web pilot or pitching a web series?  We have a solid, comprehensive plan for the show we’re working on and about 12 other ideas for short web series.  We’d just like to talk to people about them.”

Well, the answer is: there is no answer.  Or, rather, in the wild and untamed world of the Internet, there’s not just one answer, and of the many possible answers or paths out there, none is necessarily better than the others.  But here are the primary avenues for getting your online series out there…

•  DO IT YOURSELF.  Literally.  In the age of YouTube, Bebo, and MetaCafe, it’s never been easier to produce your own series and distribute it to audiences.  The trick, of course, is getting people to find and watch it, but the mechanics are in place for any producer needing a “portal.”

I know this seems generic and haphazard, but the truth is: THIS IS THE BEST WAY OF ATTRACTING ATTENTION AND GETTING YOUR WORK SEEN.  One of the most popular Internet series of all time, Lonelygirl15, became an Internet phenomenon simply by posting shortform episodes on YouTube.

And fortunately, because it’s the Internet, you don’t need to post your work on only one site.  Sites like YouTube and Blip.tv don’t have exclusive rights to any of the videos there, so I recommend posting your projects on AS MANY SITES AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN: MySpaceTV, Vimeo, Revver everywhere you can think of.  

•  FIND A FINANCIER.  This is basically how traditional television works.  A writer or producer with a show idea pitches it to a financial backer (in TV’s case, usually a studio), who then ventures into the marketplace to find a distributor (a TV network).  This same model can occasionally work in cyberspace.  Many TV studios have started online entertainment divisions, like Warner Brothers 2.0, dedicated to finding and developing selling online content.  They then license the show to a portal, like MSN or Yahoo, just like the would a television show to a network.  Sometimes they produce the show themselves and put it on their own website, like with NBC’s Coastal Dreams.

Other companies are standalone companies that are solely in the business of producing Internet shows… such as Next New Networks, which is flush with $15 million in venture capital.  They then sell these shows to other distributors themselves, or create their own distribution sites or portals.

•  FIND A SPONSOR.  Many corporations and businesses are creating web shows to highlight and promote their products.  I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter has Sprays in the City, Purina has Snouts, and Snickers did Instant Def with the Black Eyed Peas.  This is often referred to as “branded entertainment,” and while there’s a lot of it out there, much of it is developed internally.  If you know someone at a company interested in doing branded entertainment, you may be able to get in to pitch your ideas, but most companies don’t take pitches and cold calls from random producers or writers.

There ARE production companies, like For Your Imagination, that specialize in developing branded entertainment for other organizations, so if you have an entrée to one of these companies, that could be equally valuable.  But you still need to prove you’re a capable, competent producer, and the best way to do this is to produce and distribute things on your own to show off your chops.

Either way, however, you’ll probably need a pre-existing relationship.  Also, because branded entertainment is designed to promote a specific brand or product, it’s rare that outside ideas are bought, because they’re rarely developed to meet that product’s special needs.

•  JOIN FORCES WITH AN ONLINE ENTERTAINMENT OUTLET.  This is probably the toughest row to hoe, especially because there aren’t many organizations focusing solely on finding and nurturing fresh with which to develop Internet-specific content.  One of the best is SuperDeluxe, Turner‘s online comedy site, which works very similarly to a traditional TV studio and network.  SuperDeluxe finds talented producers, like Honor Student (a sketch group/production company which produces SuperDeluxe’s Chasing Donovan series), then makes development deals commissioning original work.  Michael Eisner also runs Vuguru, which produces Prom Queen and Sam Has 7 Friends.

Hooking up with these kinds of companies is, obviously, a great opportunity if you can get it… but these companies are few and far between.  The best way to land one of these deals is to find success on your own, posting work on YouTube, FunnyorDie, etc., then attract the attention of bigger buyers and producers.

While none of these paths is easy, John, I think the best starting place is to simply get your work out there via as many platforms as possible—iFilm, Podshow, Second Life… wherever you can find eyeballs—and then promote the hell out of it.  Your goal is to create work that’s buzz-worthy enough to go viral.

Unlike the network and studio systems of TV and movies, there isn’t yet a solid framework or pipeline in place to gather and develop online content.  Part of this is because the world of Internet entertainment is still fairly new, and no one’s figured out the best way to find, develop, produce or distribute work… so everyone’s using different methods and processes.  

But it’s also because there’s almost no money being made in the world of online content.  People are experimenting with different models of monetizing content, but so far, no one is striking it rich… and the amount of income generated by online shows is tiny compared to the billions of dollars generated by TV shows.  (To put this in perspective, online research firm eMarketer recently predicted that the U.S. would spend abou
t $1.4 billion dollars this year on online video ad spending.  Which seems like a good chunk of change, until your realize that includes ALL VIDEO AD SPENDING ONLINE… and it’s only 1/50th of what America spends on TV advertising.)  

Plus, in the “Wild West” of the Internet, a professionally produced series like Quarterlife has no better chance of succeeding than a show like a Lonelygirl15, which began with a budget of a few hundred dollars in its producers’ bedroom.  So while everyone understands that the Internet is entertainment’s next frontier, no one want to invest a lot of money in it.

Anyway, John—all of this just to say, again: your best bet is to put your work out there yourself, on as many portals as possible, and work your ass off promoting it.

And now, for your viewing pleasure… one of the great episodes of Lonelygirl15 that helped make it such a phenomenon before it blew up and the producers ruined everything by admitting it was fake.   (Still, you can never get sick of some funky music, simple editing, and a cute girl in a swimsuit.)

LONELYGIRL15: SWIMMING!

And now, after watching a cute chick in a swimsuit, here’s a quick scolding from Hayden Panettiere

SEXUAL HARASSMENT PSA WITH HAYDEN PANETTIERE

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One thought on “READER QUESTION: How Do I Pitch or Distribute My Web Series?

  1. John R.

    Hi Chad! Thank you for the quick response to my question! I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the rest of the answers from that e-mail.

    Currently, we’re going to release what we’ve got over at strike.tv when that gets up and running, but I’m worried about running time now: we’re at a little over 20 minutes, so we’ve decided to cut it up into 5-6 minute bits…but I’m still a little apprehensive.

    I’m definitely looking into all your advice, and after the strike.tv release, we’ll be putting it up EVERYWHERE.

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