Bringing your internet TV series to life

We’ve spoken before about developing pilots and reality TV series. But there’s an ugly truth out there. Even though people have (potentially) more access to more channels than ever before thanks to digital and satellite television, there’s also growing dissatisfaction with the traditional network model. As it turns out, in this case variety is not the spice of life, but the sediment that accrues at the bottom of the pot when coffee is brewed poorly. Everything is fine if you’re just skimming the surface (channel surfing and watching casually), but it’s getting harder and harder for channels to get deep loyalty with consistent viewership. Sure, there are the one-off series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad that have strong followings, but that doesn’t mean people were watching everything else on those networks.

Thanks to services like Netflix and Hulu, people have gotten a taste of the good life. Good, in this case, meaning they can watch what they want and leave the rest. Now cable companies are trying to play catch-up by offering streaming services so that you can watch what you want, when you want, without having to deal with (or pay for) the things you don’t want.

People are turning to the web for streaming entertainment. Cash in on the trend.

People are turning to the web for streaming entertainment. Cash in on the trend.

This shift in viewing habits offers you a tremendous opportunity if you’ve always wanted to do a television series, but didn’t want to swim through the shark-infested waters of program development to make that dream a reality. Web series are big business these days, and while there’s still plenty of time, effort, and money involved in producing them, you have a much better chance of getting it in front of viewers’ eyes and keeping it there. What’s more, because you can target a much narrower niche audience, you are much more likely to end up with a final product that’s closer to, or exactly matches, your vision than you would be if you went a more traditional route. Traditional routes inevitably involves every network employee from the janitor to the president putting in their two cents about what you must change about the show. Not could, not should, but must.

A few years ago, web series seemed like a fad, or the hellish limbo where people who just couldn’t get network backing put their series out of sheer stubbornness. In many ways it mirrored the self-publishing arm of the book industry, where so-called vanity presses were sneered at as a desperate writer’s only hope of getting books printed. Now the self-publishing industry has become big business for authors who found that they can cut their costs significantly (really, why do you need to pay 15% to an agent, plus buy-back fees if books don’t sell?) while keeping a far larger share of the profits. In the same way, web series are no longer considered pathetic.

Take a look at a list of web series and you’ll see that there’s big demand for these programs. The tally runs the gamut from science fiction series (including prequels  to popular television series and continuations of discontinued series) to literary analysis programs and everything between. Surely, with this wealth of material, there’s room for your series too.

So how do you begin? First, you have to understand that even though you’re presenting your series on a different medium than traditional television outlets, you still have to make the series presentable and do a professional job of pitching it. This is a must both to attract revenue to produce the show, through advertisers (or backers, who will want to make their money back though—guess what—advertising) as well as to get a place for your gem of a series to call home. Even though you’re not asking networks to give you time on their broadcast channels, they still may be your best bet for hosting the series on their websites.

This means you have to first produce a viable treatment. You can’t go into this with a vague idea and a lot of hope. This will tell anyone you’re pitching the idea to that you’re hopelessly unprepared. “Unprepared” is “failure” spelled backwards (and incorrectly, but if you were prepared you would have done a spelling check). The treatment should explain the premise of the show (and you should be prepared to explain the premise in a single sentence. Yes, just one sentence. If you can’t, you need to hone your focus).  It should also introduce your talent. You should have a version that includes a pilot synopsis and brief summaries of several episodes, but have a version that doesn’t in case the pitchees tell you they only want the minimum. Have character outlines ready if the series is fiction or reality-based drama (such as an historical series based on real people and events), or brief introductions of your talent if it is non-fiction.

Know your target audience and have the numbers ready, so you can prove there will be enough potential interest in the series to merit space on the web and money for production. Know your potential advertisers. Have a budget worked out that includes not only production costs but costs for promotion, and have a promotion plan ready too. In the first meeting, potential advertisers or web hosts might not need those specifics, but let them know you have the information ready to go if they want  to see it (and make sure you actually have that information with you, in hard copy or digital storage, so you can leave it with them.)

Should you actually have a sample of the series ready to go? That depends on you, but we would discourage making a full episode because it takes a lot of time and money. A sizzle reel is a good halfway point, as it gives people  a taste of what you’re offering and what the talent is like. Whether you script the entire pilot is up to you. It does take a lot of time and energy, but on the other hand if your series is picked up you’ll be that much closer to being able to hit the ground running.  We would advise against scripting other episodes unless you get significant interest from both advertisers and have a place on the web to house the series. Having summaries, just to show you have enough ideas to give the project the backbone to stand up, will be sufficient.

Hence offers all the services you need to make a quality web series. From preproduction steps such as concept development and helping you craft a pitch, to post-production and delivery, we can bring your series to life.