Tag Archives: Horace & Pete

Is web the way forward?

Plenty of people are tuning into web series, but can digital ever replace television? As part of DQ’s Digital Drama Season, three industry insiders give their thoughts on the future of online drama.

Once derided for their poor production values, web series are now finding fans – and legitimacy – in the wider television landscape. Whether they are a source of new talent or offer creators a way to experiment with new characters or stories, the quality of many online series now rivals shows seen on broadcast and cable networks around the world.

But what are the challenges facing creators and producers online, and how can they turn a seven-minute clip into must-see viewing?

Earlier this year at industry meet-up MipTV, Kathleen Grace, chief creative officer at New Form Digital; Anne Santa Maria, a producer from France’s Taronja Prod; and Sam Toles, head of global content and distribution at Vimeo, discussed the potential of web series and whether they can ever overtake their terrestrial siblings.

Kathleen Grace
Kathleen Grace

Do you believe web series will be or can be the nouvelle vague in fiction?
KG: Definitely. In terms of production right now, people are shooting with smaller and faster cameras and there is definitely guerrilla shooting in many ways. But I also think about how audiences are discovering it and seeing it – it’s very different from traditional TV and film. A lot is based on your social media feed and the influence that algorithm programming has on your content. That changes how you produce and how you get your content marketed and discovered.

ST: The lines between web content and traditional content are blurring and we’re at the very beginning of something that’s a completely different paradigm in the content business. Traditionally, content is produced by a creator and then given over to a distribution network, whether that’s a channel, a distributor or some third party that then transmits it to the audience. What’s most interesting about digital is actually those three worlds have combined – the creator, the audience and the platform. If you don’t have punch points between the audience and the creator, where they feel an actual relationship or kinship with the person producing the content, the content will not be authentic and it will not be successful. That doesn’t matter if it’s in an ad context or a premium context. People wish to feel in this new social media world that they are connected personally with people who are delivering them content – and since they have infinite choice, the closer that personal connection, the more successful that content will be.

High Maintenance
High Maintenance airs on Vimeo

Do you think web series are only for young audiences, or can they compete for a larger audience or older demographics?
KG: Every morning, I spend the first 30 minutes of my day in bed consuming online video, through my Facebook feed, my Twitter feed and my email. And I don’t think I’m alone in my demographic in that; a lot of people do it, and a lot of people consume a ton of video on their phones. Do older demographics have a connection with YouTube talent or some other talent that the younger demographics do? No, but my sister-in-law is 42 and she’s obsessed with Horace and Pete[Louis CK’s web series, pictured top] – so it’s just about finding the passionate fans.

ST: YouTube’s white-hot core is the 13- to 14-year-old female demographic. Our platform [Vimeo] actually skews a little bit older. The average age is around 33 and is more heavily male. If you look at the kind of web series we’re producing, High Maintenance, for example, is the story of a marijuana dealer who deals with quirky New Yorkers and their eccentricities, and it’s somewhat X-rated. That was our first original programme and it’s now gone onto HBO.

Anne Santa-Maria
Anne Santa Maria

ASM: There’s a greater and greater appetite for fiction and I think the big audience for broadcast traditional content are older than 50 years old, at least in France. It started with YouTube for younger audiences but our job is to make them curious about new narratives and their taste for fiction in general.

Do web series provide a world where anything is possible?
ST: It depends. If you’re making content for advertisers, there is no freedom. If you’re selling soap, toothpaste or Coca-Cola, you’ve got to conform to the norms of those brands and the brands [in the web space] are less progressive in many ways than they are in the linear world. For us as an ad-free platform, we are 100% about total creative freedom. You have to know where the funding is coming from and what that universe looks like – and when you’re dealing with advertisers and ad-supported platforms, that freedom can be limited.

KG: If High Maintenance had been put out on YouTube, it would have been flagged incessantly by the community and taken down. So there’s lots of creative freedom. You don’t have people giving notes but you always are going to get an active voice from your audience online and they are going to tell you when they think you suck – very loudly, with lots of feeling, over and over again.

Are web series only an extension of the television landscape, or can they have an impact on TV itself?
ASM: Public broadcasters in France had the curiosity to explore what’s on the web and decided they had to be a part of it. So television is curious about how you make web series, how you get viewers and increase viewing numbers. They’re also aware that the market is more competitive than ever and new platforms are coming up, so they realise they have to be part of the new agenda and this is how they have to be. It’s a great challenge for them.

ST: It’s actually the opposite – is television relevant in an era of web series and web content? I watch broadcasters jump into ‘online’ and what they do is offer extra footage from a reality show – ‘tune in for the stuff that wasn’t good enough to put on television’ – that’s the mentality. It doesn’t feel natural.

The Outs
The Outs focuses on gay life in New York

What could go wrong? Do web series have a highway to success, or are there obstacles on the road?
ST: The biggest challenge is monetisation. Ad monetisation and the nature of pre-roll [advertising] is rapidly coming to an end. The reason shows are 22 minutes long [in television] is because linear channels had to programme slots and advertising. That has been torn away. We’re still trying to serve pre-roll advertising in a digital context and it becomes less and less effective, in the same way advertising itself in television is becoming less effective. Producers have got to figure out how to generate income to continue making their businesses work and to grow and ultimately yield return to the people investing in them. That is not an easy thing. I applaud anyone who has jumped into this world and is creating content for the digital medium because margins are tight and the content has to be produced on ridiculously low budgets – yet I still look at a show like Oscars or High Maintenance or The Outs and the quality is equal to or better than what you find on television. More importantly, it’s more interesting, it’s more dynamic and it will be the future. We just have to figure out how we make more money with it.

KG: The biggest challenge is we don’t know how to find a hit yet. What’s a hit when the world’s biggest YouTube personality has 47 million subscribers and nobody knows who he is and every 13-year-old boy is obsessed with him? It’s really hard to define a hit when audiences are so fragmented. Once we define a hit, monetisation will be much easier. You can be incredibly popular on Vimeo, you can be incredibly popular on these platforms and still feel like no-one knows who you are, even though you’re creatively successful and in some cases financially successful, you don’t feel like you have a hit. And it’s going to get tougher and tougher. There are lots of great shows on Netflix that people don’t watch.

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HBO, FX dominate Emmy noms

Games of Thrones and The People vs OJ Simpson picked up a lot of Emmy nominations this week – but can they convert them into awards?

Game of Thrones
HBO’s Game of Thrones picked up 23 nominations

The 2016 Emmy Award nominees were announced this week. All told, nearly 50 scripted series (excluding comedies) picked up at least one nomination, although only a handful are likely to convert those nominations into awards when the winners are announced on September 16 at the Microsoft Theater in LA.

A few years ago, winning an Emmy would have been seen as a nice endorsement of a show but little more. These days, however, it has taken on added significance for a couple of reasons.

The first is that the quality of TV drama has risen so rapidly. Winning an Emmy now really is an impressive achievement, and in some categories is not really that different to winning an Oscar. The second is that it is increasingly difficult to gauge the success of a show purely on the basis of its ratings (in the case of SVoD shows, there are no ratings).

FX's The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story
The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story

So racking up Emmys is a way of alerting the industry to the quality of a show, something that probably converts into business at Mipcom, the first major programming market to follow the Emmy ceremony.

So which shows caught the eye in this year’s nominations? Well, it’s no real surprise to see HBO’s Game of Thrones is out in front with 23 nominations. Such is the quality and ambition of the show that the only thing likely to stop it winning awards this year is that it secured a record-breaking 12 Emmys last year, from 24 nominations.

Awards judges, sometimes deliberately, sometimes subconsciously, have a tendency to steer away from previous winners to make sure that everyone gets a fair share of acclaim.

At this stage, the biggest threat to HBO’s hit series comes from the FX camp, with The People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story securing 22 nominations and Fargo securing 18.

House of Cards
Netflix’s long-running House of Cards was nominated in 13 categories

Netflix’s House of Cards secured 13 nominations but the biggest snub of the year went to the subscription VoD platform’s other flagship show Orange Is The New Black, with just one nomination.

The Night Manager was a huge hit on BBC1 in the UK but a modest performer on AMC in the US. However, the Emmys have rectified that situation slightly by granting the show 12 nominations.

After these shows, there is a huddle of titles securing multiple nominations, including Downton Abbey (10); All The Way and American Horror Story: Hotel (both eight); Better Call Saul and Roots (both seven); Mr Robot, Penny Dreadful and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride (all six); The Americans and Ray Donovan (both five); American Crime, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Good Wife, Homeland, The Knick and The Man in the High Castle (all four); and Empire, Gotham, Luther, Masters of Sex, Narcos and Vikings (all three).

BBC1 hit The Night Manager was only a modest performer on AMC
BBC1 hit The Night Manager was only a modest performer on AMC

Of course, some categories are more prestigious than others. So it’s interesting to note that USA Network’s Mr Robot made its way on to both the Outstanding Drama series category and the Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category (Sam Esmail).

The same is true for The Americans, which has been nominated for Emmys before but not usually in the most prestigious categories. Perhaps this is a sign that 2016 is the show’s year to come out on top. Worth noting also is that it is another FX series – evidence of a cable channel firing on all cylinders creatively.

The Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series category throws up another couple of interesting points. One is that it has included Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s UnREAL, which airs on Lifetime.

This is quite an achievement given that the show didn’t really feature anywhere else in the Emmys list. The other is that two of the nominations are for writers of shows that are ending: Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey and Robert and Michelle King’s The Good Wife. That might be enough to swing votes their way.

The Americans has its first Outstanding Drama nom
The Americans has its first Outstanding Drama nom

The Outstanding Limited Series category is a face-off between American Crime, Fargo, The Night Manager, The People vs OJ Simpson and Roots. Once again we can see a decent level of diversity here both in front of and behind the camera. American Crime’s inclusion is a welcome nod for an ABC series that has been welcomed by critics but not done too well in the ratings.

As is evident from the above listings, the only serious non-US competition for Emmys comes from the Brits. The Night Manager and Downton Abbey are the UK’s frontrunners to win Emmys, but there were also decent showings from Penny Dreadful, Luther and Sherlock: The Abominable Bride.

With War & Peace picking up a music nomination, the BBC secured a total of 22, which is more than most. It’s also worth noting that Showtime’s US adaptation of Shameless picked up two comedy nominations.

Bryan Cranston plays Lyndon B Johnson in HBO's All The Way
Bryan Cranston plays Lyndon B Johnson in HBO’s All The Way

Looking more broadly at the scripted comedy categories, there were three top performers: HBO’s Veep with 17 noms, HBO’s Silicon Valley with 11 and Amazon’s Transparent with 10. Overall, the Emmys were pretty good for the major SVoD platforms, with established shows like House of Cards and Transparent the strongest performers.

Despite Man In The High Castle attracting four, it looks like Amazon came out just behind Netflix, which secured a smattering of nominations for its Marvel-based shows, Narcos, Bloodline and Sense8.

Cable channel AMC picked up a total of five nominations related to its Walking Dead universe and will take pleasure in the success of The Night Manager (which it aired) – but overall the network can expect a quiet year at the Emmys.

Other shows to score at least one flavour of Emmy nomination included 11.22.63, Bates Motel, Black Sails, Horace & Pete, Minority Report, Outlander and Vinyl.

The Oscars would do well to take note of the fact that the Lead Actor in a Limited Series category includes three black actors out of six, though on this occasion Idris Elba, Cuba Gooding Jr and the superb Courtney B Vance may find that Bryan Cranston’s impressive performance in HBO’s Lyndon B Johnson biopic All The Way proves hard for the Emmy judges to overlook. Black actress Kerry Washington also impressed in Confirmation and Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) and Taraji P Henson (Empire) achieved nominations for Lead Actress in a Drama.

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