Where web-based series were once a novelty, they're now gaining traction among viewers that crave clever and imaginative content.
When House of Cards, the Netflix series starring Kevin Spacey, scored an Outstanding Director Emmy this past Sunday, it made history as the first web-based series to win a major Emmy award. Days earlier, the show had won two Creative Arts Emmys. It boasted nine Emmy nominations in all.
It's the year of the web series, and although it may appear that House of Cards is leading the charge, it isn't standing on the front line alone. This year has seen the launch of streaming Netflix series like Orange is the New Black and Hemlock Grove, along with site-based programs like Wired's animated Codefellas and the Kickstarter-funded LoveFail. Where web-based series were once a novelty, they're now gaining traction among viewers that crave clever and imaginative content. They're receiving critical acclaim. We're very close to being at a point where web series are deemed as worthy of viewers' time as traditional TV programming. Some might say we're already there.
This is all well and good for consumers, who have at their disposal an absolute glut of online content, but as it turns out, advertisers are benefiting from the trend too. The high-profile exposure of such web series makes it easier for media strategists to get client buy-in for related campaigns, but more than that, it produces a surplus of advertising options. Cable channels see the potential for a secondary content channel and the ad dollars that are sure to follow, and divert some of their production funds toward material that will only reach consumers online.
Take a look at Travel Channel, which features numerous "all web" series that are exclusive to TravelChannel.com. Each one offers pre-roll and companion banner opportunities, and the chance to align oneself with fresh video content. The recent launch of Discovery Communications' new science-themed digital video network, found at TestTube.com, also created new opportunities for brands. TestTube includes more than two-dozen professionally produced short web series that can be watched on the site, on YouTube, through iTunes, or by way of a mobile device. Product placement and show integration, channel sponsorships, pre-roll ads, and site buttons are all being made available for purchase.
Brands more interested in lifestyle content can head to BravoTV.com. Bravo's launch of Padma's Picks, a six-episodes series that acts as a supplement to reality TV hit Top Chef, builds on the popularity of Last Chance Kitchen, which is now in its third season. Bravo also recently introduced The Heather Channel, a four-episode spin-off of Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles that follows one of the show's realtors as she branches out on her own.
Hulu original series, of which there are more than a dozen, combine well-known acting and production talent and also afford sponsorship opportunities spanning pre-roll spots and companion banners. To promote its release on DVD and Blu-ray, World War Z marketers recently sponsored filmmaker Kevin Smith's movie review show Spoilers.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the web series trend is that leveraging it doesn't require much additional effort on the part of media buyers. You need to know your options, of course, and stay on the leading edge of web-based content, but in general the same rules of video advertising apply.
If there's one thing brands should do to safeguard their success, it's to be mindful about selecting the right series for their needs. Sponsoring a web series is about context: matching brand to program theme. Even if the audience seems to be a good fit, it's important to assess whether your presence will make sense to viewers and spawn some interest, or leave them scratching their heads.
TV and the web have been playing nice for quite some time, but never before have we seen this level of dedication to producing and distributing quality web-based content. The lines between these mediums are blurring – and for consumers and brands, that's a very good thing.
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Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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