Some of the best content on YouTube comes from scripted web series. The more free-from approach to web content allows creators to experiment, take risks and develop their skills. Web series are quickly becoming an incubator for talent and a launch into more traditional media. Series creators are now starting to take their first steps outside of YouTube and into the mainstream media.
What works best about web series is that they are fan driven. They vary in content and in format. The vlog-styled tribute to Pride and Prejudice, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is much different from the feel-good think piece shorts put out by Rainn Wilson’s Soul Pancake. From the wonderfully strange Unnecessary Otter, where one of the characters is literally a stuffed otter being held up by an out of shot arm, to the interesting and informative The Good Stuff, where they explore different topics, from airplanes to time, theres something for all audiences. With a web-series it is much easier to cultivate an audience and once that audience is formed, it’s easier to keep the show going.
Through crowd sourcing sites like Indiegogo and Subbable, a site made solely for funding YouTube channels, creators are able to raise funding for their passion projects by reaching out to their audience. Web series are much less likely to go the way of gone-too-soon television shows like Firefly and Arrested Development because they aren’t beholden to traditional media ideas of success. If a series has a fan base, there is a high chance that it gets funded.
It is no surprise that the creators and content of web series are getting more and more mainstream attention. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, won an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Media in 2013 and you can now find Video Game High School available for streaming on Netflix. The ability to have total control over their content while building a fan base is invaluable to creators.
One of the best examples of this effect is Issa Rae. After growing her fan base with The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, she now has a pilot with HBO for a show called Insecure. Her ability to relate to a specific fan base, (black women), via YouTube allowed her to cultivate her point of view and eventually step into traditional media.
Ultimately the question always comes down to “Will the popularity of web series overtake that of traditional media?” and my answer is no. Web series work best because they cater to niche markets. Something like Ackee & Saltfish, a series that’s been called a British Broad City, would take on so much workshopping with traditional media that it’s concentrated point of view and relatability would be watered down. One of the best parts about creating for the web is that there’s more freedom to explore and relate. Those niche audiences are what make web-series so special. Trying to make them fit within the scope of traditional media would be absurd.