December 12, 2006
Internet Television a Reserve for Independent TV Producers?

My inbox has been flooded with people pointing the way to a variety of interesting articles appearing in the New York Times over the past couple of days. I guess that, as they enter their end-of-the-year run, they've been spending quite a bit of time thinking about convergence culture since...well...the newpaper of record is starting to realize that 2006 was the year of Convergence Culture (cheap plug).

On Sunday, I wrote about Jon Pareles's article in that same paper about the rise of user-generated content as a concept in the past year.

However, Lynn Liccardo passed along a short piece from Sunday's paper by David Haskell which writes about the potential rise of independent television using the Web as a distribution model.

Haskell points out that the entire idea of independent television with any kind of distribution seemed ludicrous. There have been some shows that have gained some fame through syndication. Xena, Hercules, and Highlander all did well in syndication, as did shows that were originally on networks but then stayed alive through syndication like Baywatch and Mama's Family. And game shows like Jeopardy! have been staples of syndication for some time, as WWE programming was in former years.

But independent television does not just mean unaffiliated with a network. In the case of all these shows, they had a driving corporate force behind them. There was no outlet for low-budget distribution other than various public television or public access models around the country, or else a lot of deals which involved paying people to air one's product, much like vanity presses are more than happy to publish people's books for them.

The Web changed that. Haskell writes, "How could someone without industry connections or television experience develop and release episodes of a sitcom?
This year provided an answer in the form of dozens of Web-based video serials. Shows like Duder, The Burg, Floaters, and Soup of the Day are short, low-budget, episodic situation comedies viewed online. They look something like a cross between Seinfeld and YouTube home movies."

He points out that, as network offerings are going to the Web, it is becoming an interesting new platform to view both high-budget and independent situation comedies. And they also point out that the Web offers both interactivity and a quick reaction time to current events that is not possible to achieve with sitcoms on the networks considering that all that has to be done between editing and viewing is posting the video up.

Back in July, I wrote about Soup of the Day, then on its 18th installment. At the time, I wrote, "When Tim e-mailed me about this venture, he pointed out that the site is perhaps the best example of how video distribution costs have dropped immensely, through the video hosting power of YouTube. And it becomes further evidence of other models of distribution that does not require a traditional broadcasting network to produce a compelling television series. Through video-sharing, grassroots networking among the growing fan community, and clever transmedial marketing by the producers, Soup of the Day could be come the hit de jour of Summer 2006." I also wrote about the show's interesting promotion through MySpace, offering easy accessibility to transmedia projects through a multimedia platform like a Web-based show.

And what about genres other than the situation comedy? Most of the focus so far has been on online animation and sitcoms. In many ways, the sitcom drove early innovation in television program, and it's helping pave the way onto the Web for independent producers now as well. But what could be coming after it?