Web TV: what it has to offer, what’s holding it back

YouTube alleges that more video is uploaded to their site in one month than the three major US networks have created in the last 60 years.  Critics would dismiss it as all junk, and there certainly is plenty, but is it really just quantity over quality? As Internet video hosting and streaming has become more accessible, content has begun string narrative threads together, forming something greater than “funny cat takes a bath” or “man getting hit by football.” It’s web television.

Web television, or web TV, is defined as original programming made for audiences to view online, rather than via television broadcast.

Though web TV isn’t as popular as regular TV, some famous names have gotten involved. Joss Whedon, creator of such successful franchises as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly,” created the three-part web TV series, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”

This show included famous actors Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion, so while not exceptionally profitable, “Dr. Horrible” drew the attention of famous writers and directors, increasing web TV’s perception of being viable.

“A lot of people are watching ‘Dr. Horrible’ to see if it’s any kind of model […] to help pave the way for artists to start working and making a living from the ground up,” Whedon wrote on his blog.

One great thing about web TV is that sense of opportunity, already launching several successful careers. Donald Glover began by co-creating the web series “Derrick Comedy,” and has since gained fame from co-starring in the NBC sit-com “Community,” to the feature film “Mystery Team.” Brad Neely, creator of popular web cartoons like “The Professor Brothers,” recently got his own series on Cartoon Network titled “China, IL.”

Many assume that “web TV” is television shows that were produced for broadcast, but have been hosted for re-watching on sites like Hulu or Netflix. People have viewed web TV without perhaps realizing that it is considered a separate entity from mere Internet videos.
The explanation for this attitude is varied. As a venue, web TV is relatively new. While television shows have enjoyed over 80 years of growth, web TV has clocked in roughly 10. For example, the largest web TV resource, YouTube, was only founded in 2005. This fact, while not a quality downside, speaks volumes in terms of audience support. It’s young.

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Both the largest hurdle and greatest asset for web TV is the lack of production value. The upside is that anyone can make a web TV show, but the down side is that anyone can make a web TV show.

In order for shows to air, they must go through target market research and pilots. As the only requirements for web TV are a video camera and a YouTube account, there is effectively no filter.

Because of this, web TV shows don’t need a large budget in order to be made, but they also rarely have a large budget with which to be made properly.

Viewers shy away from membership fees as they don’t pay for network TV. Instead, these shows gain money from commercial sponsors and network contracts. Web TV’s production quality is stunted in comparison.

A common work-around is either creating content that requires a small budget, or supplementing the free content with merchandise, donation buttons, or banner ads. Most shows utilize a combination of both. “Red vs Blue,” for instance, use the in-game engine of the Xbox video game “Halo” in order to render all of their visuals. The popular web series “Homestar Runner” utilizes a low-cost flash animation engine to render content.
Live-action web shows like “The Guild” or “Dorm Life” emlpoy a single-camera mechanic to convey a “mockumentary” style similar to TV shows like “The Office.” In this manner, web TV manages to skate by on smaller budgets, often employing friends or family members for free in lieu of paid actors.

Web TV as a whole isn’t as known as traditional TV programming, but it has evolved in just ten short years. With low overhead and an abundance of creative energy behind it, web TV may eventually set a new standard.