The future of online television continues to get brighter. Why? Not necessarily because any of the particular series that have launched are of such high quality that it will make a major difference. In fact, I'm trying to take a quality-agnostic approach here. I'm convinced rather by the proliferation of online video series. As the number of television series that launch online continues to skyrocket, the chance of online distribution becoming a viable market increases.
The learning curve requires industry innovation, an increase in quality, and viewer acclimation. The many online video series that have been launching in recent months encourage all of that. The first online video series are interesting just for their "gee-whiz-ness," the fact that they were an online video series being a novelty all their own. As these series become more commonplace, though, the industry begins to learn through trial and error what does and doesn't work, and series can no longer ride on that innovator wave, requiring the shows to have to stand on their artistic merit.
That's not to say that some of the online video series that have run so far aren't strong from a quality standpoint but rather that people were intrigued by them for reasons other than their storytelling and aesthetic strengths. Now people are getting used to online video content, or at least it is becoming more mainstream among those most likely to watch online video series, and we are increasingly seeing the networks getting involved.
I've been covering these trends for a while here at the C3 blog. At first, I was getting notices from lead users, telling me to pay attention to interesting new series like Soup of the Day. Online video was becoming a home for independent content. As I wrote in December 2006, in response to a New York Times piece on the subject, "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." See that trend continuing more recently with The West Side.
It was the tandem of Lonelygirl15 and Prom Queen that really got people talking about online video, though, and eventually the conversation moved on to spinoffs and product integration related to those two successes.
Some of the latest trends in online video have included official network content (see my posts on InTurn, L.A. Diaries, and Coastal Dreams, for instance) and branded online video series (such as Tide's Crescent Heights and Mates' Mates).
For more on these activities, see this recent Wired article on Nicholas Reville, who oversees the Participatory Culture Foundation's free open-source video player intended to help move television content online.