AdAge takes a look at what nearly everyone who has tried to launch a webseries has discovered:
What it [TubeMogul] found is that the series lost 64% of their audiences, on aggregate, from the first to the second episode. The decline becomes less steep from there, but it shows why many series don’t last past the 10th episode; by then there just aren’t many viewers left.
Of course, there are plenty of logical explanations for this syndrome. On obvious one is highlighted at the end of the AdAge post:
Lance Podell, CEO of Next New Networks, said the company categorically doesn’t buy advertising to distribute shows, instead relying on cross-promotion, PR and search optimization to build audiences.
Now, Next New Networks has been doing pretty well, but it would be tough to argue they were doing anything close to TV numbers in terms of consistent viewership. Without any true advertising it is not hard to understand why so few people have heard of NNN or any of its shows – outside of the tiny circle of New Media webheads like me, of course.
There isn’t a single TV show that could succeed without some traditional marketing and that’s with the built-in kind of reach that TV already provides – not to mention a less “noisy” environment. Oh, and even with huge marketing budgets many TV shows fail, too.
The idea that one can count on “going viral” and build the kinds of audiences needed to maintain an ongoing series is just plain absurd and ignorant. That might work, rarely, for a standalone video, but it will never support a series.
There are a slew of other challenges for webseries success beyond marketing. Only recently have distributors tried out things like releasing a full “season” at once, instead of relying on an audience finding their way back to the series a week or a month after watching a single 2-5 minute video. This makes a lot of sense, as would a better way to “push” new episodes to interested viewers – such as via an iPhone app…
The one major thing the AdAge article fails to mention is that a vast amjority of new webseries aren’t really that great. It’s a new form and creators are just getting the combination of experience and support they need to make things that are truly worthy of commitment from a sustained audience.