In the mid 2000’s, prior to the launch of a revolutionary media platform called YouTube, the concept of the Web Series became a popular topic of conversation.
Independent filmmakers and actors began producing ‘webisodes’ for the internet and an award ceremony known as “The Webby’s” was even introduced.
Even studios were taking notice of the web series boom. Sony introduced a new division called Crackle, which produced high end web series with well known talent. A-listers like Tom Hanks even contributed to web series content.
So many web series were being produced that SAG had to create an entirely new contract – the New Media contract – to accommodate it.
The overlying problem that everyone eventually came to realize is – there was no money in producing web series.
Even Sony Crackle couldn’t maintain itself as a lucrative web series studio and turned their attention to second run genre films.
Producing a web series became a tangible arena for any and all content creators to carve out their own path in Hollywood. Unfortunately it just wasn’t making anybody very wealthy.
Ultimately the web series evolved into a supplemental tool to assist in the marketing of major franchise films and network shows.
Cut to ten years later…
Suddenly short form content has re-emerged and this time around, there seems to be a much clearer path to producing short form content that can be monetized viably.
Jeffrey Katzenberg recently launched his new platform Quibi – an entire platform devoted to the production and global distribution of short form content. Additionally, many of the mainstream streamers have hopped on the bandwagon.
So what has changed since the initial crazy ten years ago? Drum roll…the smart phone.
The Era of the Smart Phone
We now live in an age where much of the world consumes content on their phones and short form content lends itself very conveniently to the commute to work, little breaks during the day and of course, short attention spans.
Advertisers have taken notice and even the Emmys have launched a new category for Best Short Form Series.
Now, any “series” with a minimum of six episodes, with each episode ranging from two to fifteen minutes, can become eligible for legit Emmy Award consideration.
Interestingly, not many people in the indie world seem to be taking note, although I expect that will change. There still isn’t a very tangible way into the fray for indie content creators who lack a stacked rolodex. Not just anyone can call the head of acquisitions at Quibi and schedule a pitch. (It’s Reese Witherspoon’s husband, ex CAA agent Jim Toth by the way).
But the fact that studios are now emerging that are focused on producing quality short form content is very telling of things to come.
This time out, due to the smart phone and Facebook technology driving it all, it’s even changing the way content is produced.
A common thing we now hear is that “they are shooting it vertically”, meaning they are customizing the aspect ratio in production to cater to smart phone and Facebook layouts.
What short form content will be the most desired?
If you are taking note of short form content and looking to play in the sandbox, what type of content is moving the needle?
I believe we can still look at mainstream movie consumption as a bar for the type of content people want.
Mainstream genres such as action will likely lend themselves to the short form format. But the short form wave also seems to lend itself to genres that don’t typically resonate as well in the global film market.
Comedy and drama, for example, seem much more tangible in short form series format and may find a place much easier than an independent film.
Story and production value will still separate the boys and girls from the men and the women but star power is something that is not likely going to be as big of a driver in short form as it is with feature films.
It’s a great alternative to television
All of this is great news for independent filmmakers who want to get their ticket punched without having to struggle with climbing the mountain of producing a full-length feature. From where I sit, I also believe many more platforms will begin to emerge that will cater to short form as well.
In recent years, as SVOD television has emerged as mightily as it has, I see a lot of filmmakers showing up to the markets spinning wheels about developing and producing series for television.
While I do not discourage anyone from fighting that fight, I do encourage content creators to take note of the resurging short form market as it may be a more tangible first step toward traditional format.
On that note, if you shoot a short form series, it can also be repurposed as a traditional format show (or vice versa) if the demand calls for it.
The digital landscape is changing things faster than we can keep on top of it, but it’s also always providing new opportunities for the truly indie filmmakers and content creators. It’s also evolving in a way for the first time in awhile, where content is starting to become king again.