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TV on the Web Continues to Gain Ground

“TV series tell a story and web series create a world,” noted Sam Reich, president of original content at CollegeHumor Media. The world of web series like Dinosaur Office, (left) has taken off in recent years, attracting the attention of celebrities, TV networks and large viewing audiences. Reich appeared on an Advertising Week panel on Monday, along with other TV web content producers, marketers from TV networks and companies to offer a behind-the-scenes look at this popular format. Below are key takeaways.

As TV web content proliferates, the audience needs a roadmap. ”There’s an excess of YouTube videos, with approximately 72 hours of videos being downloaded every 60 seconds,” said Rob Barnett, founder and CEO of My Damn Channel. One example of an audience roadmap is USA Today‘s “TV on the web,” designed to help viewers sort through their many online programming choices.

Web TV comes in various forms. Barnett explains that “The different paths include mass aggregation of other content, re-purposing TV content on the web, and creating something original, which is a challenge”. Reich characterized his channel’s approach as “internet-forward and not TV-backward.”

TV networks use existing resources for their web offerings. “CBS uses adjacencies with our talent and programming”, said Marc DeBevoise, SVP and general manager at CBS Interactive Entertainment. For example, Jeff and Jordan Do America uses two characters who initially met on a CBS reality series. Live on Letterman shoots in the Ed Sullivan Theater with the same crew and musical artists who appear on “Late Night”. In DeBevoise’s words, “It’s an inexpensive way to launch live programming franchises.”

Successful original web series keep content clear, brief and relatable. Barnett explained that “We don’t make a business out of one-off videos, and prefer those that can turn into a series, such as Wainy Days. You don’t need to have seen each episode. You do need to speak to the web audience in their own language.”

“Our series have a simple premise,” said Reich. David Rubin, marketing director of hair products at Unilever USA, added that “you don’t need the same level of character development” online. For DeBevoise, it’s all about leveraging interactive content.

As for timing, Barnett said that  “it better be short if it is presented as web video”. “Videos are only two to three minutes now.” Still, as DeBevoise said, “If people are prepared for it to be long-form, they will watch it.”

Celebrities add appeal, with caveats. Reich noted that many well-known entertainers like Jerry Seinfeld have entered the web TV space. “We’ve been working with celebrities for a while now. It’s most useful if they can apply their talent to their existing project to give it a boost.” DeBevoise added, “Great celebrities will help if they have the talent to make the audience watch more than once.” As Rubin said, “It’s the same rules as offline, where celebrities can help but they can’t guarantee success.”

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