Should All The Networks Be Forgot?

2006 brought us Lonelygirl15. AskANinja. The Eepy Bird guys. Their programming was seen by many. But in a world where the almighty dollar dictates what actually gets seen, they all plateaued. Sure, “Grey’s Anatomy” is a hit because many people think it’s pretty good. But it’s the ad-supported ABC network that’s responsible for the great timeslot that ensures millions tune in. If it was a Web-only piece of programming, there is no way it would generate the same kind of ad revenue (not to mention enough money to even keep it in production).

As the next big medium, the Web provides an opportunity for millions of people to view content — and they do. But because the content is so plentiful, and most of it is on-demand, the odds of one piece of programming breaking through the clutter and achieving mainstream success are minimal.

Historically, when new programming is launched on the Web, it’s hosted in one place. That ‘place’ has primarily been portals, content sites and communities, or individual Web sites with a vanity URL. While that makes it convenient for someone looking for the content to find it (it’s always in the same place), there’s a reason for it not hitting the big time — all these places limit the programming’s reach — and therefore, appeal — to advertisers or sponsors. There are certainly business models built around such a platform (Heavy.com, MTV Overdrive, etc.), but can these very ‘Web 1.0’ platforms ever be more than minor leagues relative to TV?

There’s been some talk about ‘ubiquity’ being the next ‘exclusivity.’ YouTube, Revver, MetaCafe, and all the other video sharing Web sites have facilitated distribution of content, and to a further degree, serialized programming. But only a few of these sites have facilitated sponsorships, exclusive or otherwise. There’s a lot of great content out there, but creativity is only part of the equation. It’s rare that creativity alone makes a hit. That’s why record labels, networks, and other promotional powerhouses are in business. Promotion is the missing ingredient in taking content from ‘good’ to bona fide ‘hit’ status. Sponsors’ dollars can make this happen.

In 2006, advertisers got a lot more comfortable attaching themselves to content. Even Coca-Cola broke down and finally (officially) attached themselves to the Mentos/Diet Coke Experiments. My sole prediction for 2007 is that a sponsor (or sponsors) will finally get behind a piece of Web-only programming and help make it a ubiquitous hit.

And unlike Coca-Cola, I’ll actually provide the formula for making it happen:

  1. Find a distribution channel or channels to get it seen by as many people as possible (Broadband Enterprises as actually already started doing this with their Cube Fabulous series.
  2. Be unique. Contrary to the first example, do we really need another reality show? Or is that really the only safe, low production-value programming sponsors are willing to underwrite?
  3. Involve the audience — to a degree. There’s a fine line between asking too much of the audience and asking too little. The right balance will result in programming where the audience actually has a vested interest in the next episode, taking full advantage of the interactive medium.
  4. Don’t be tempted by exclusivity. Everyone wants that distribution deal from a studio, a network, or a mobile company. In the on-demand environment audiences thrive on (and we helped create), access anywhere will be a key factor in breaking through.
  5. It’s got to be good. To be a paradigm-shifter, pop programming needs to have a hook, but not one we’ve seen before. This may sound like another way to say #2, but hey — it’s that important.
  6. Don’t think of this as branded entertainment. This hit will not be created for an advertiser, but it will certainly be able to be sold to one or many.
  7. Talent. Writing, directing, and acting talent will all have to be top-notch for the program/series to be mass consumed. It may not have to be well-known, just good. I wish I’d discovered The Lonely Island guys. SNL did. Lazy Sunday anyone?

There’s room for a ubiquitous hit out there. People love to discover something new and to recommend it to their friends. Ubiquity cannot stop at the Web, however. Ultimately, this ‘hit’ will become so successful, it will move to VOD, TiVo, Xbox360, or other platforms.

I believe in 2007, the ground will be fertile enough to grow a ubiquitous hit. Who will plant the seeds? Why don’t make that your New Year’s resolution?

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