Question for FilmTVLaw.com:
Been playing with the idea developing my dramatic series concept as a web series first, with the idea of selling it for network television later. A producer buddy of mine said it is a bad idea. Is there any legal reason this is a problem?
Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:
Thanks for a great question. The television industry in the past 10 years has grown exponentially, and in some sense many high budget series could now be considered “web series.” SVOD, TVOD and AVOD platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are quickly taking over the television industry. Netflix alone has 50 million subscribers, which is more subscribers than the top five cable-TV companies combined. But as streaming platforms have grown, so has the percentage of original content.
This means that while a streaming platform might be the ultimate venue for a series, there is still a distinction between independently producing a web series and developing a series with one of the major streaming platforms, networks, or major television production companies. When considering the best route, it is important to think about your ultimate goal for the series. I will explain how to make the decision whether to pitch to an established production company, network or platform or produce a television series independently in the following article. In addition to this article, you can also look up our Q&A blog at http://filmtvlaw.com/entertainment-lawyer-qa/.
The format of the series is critical. If you want to develop a scripted one-hour drama or a half-hour sitcom you really need to consider traditional television development for a couple of reasons. Getting at least one or two well recognized cast members is a short cut to building an audience. You have to think about how television audiences decide where to spend their viewing time. A recognizable face can give a show a shot at an audience that would not materialize otherwise. A-list talent is relatively expensive, especially for a web series, so it might pay to develop the project for a networks or platform, rather than try to raise the money to retain the talent independently.
If you decide on the network or platform development route, our firm can help pitch to executives, show runners and production companies. Development can save money, because you are looking for other financial partners like networks and production companies to cover production costs, although development is not free either. In order to stand out from the multitude of other projects being shopped, producers need to put together pitch materials that will impress development executives and get picked up.
As opposed to dramatic and sitcom series, reality television and children’s television is wide open for independent production. Producing a series pilot independently is often not too costly and will go along way to validating the concept can be successful. A strong pilot is a great way to get the attention of development executives. However, I have also had network executives tell me that depending on the program type, they can pick up reality series as concept pitches without even a sizzle reel. It just depends on the type of series and the novelty of the concept.
So, what defines a project as a web series? Web series today are produced for Youtube.com or other open platforms. If you intend on showcasing directing or writing talent, then web series are an option. In some ways web series are like film festivals are for independent film. They should be approached as a means to demonstrate your abilities and get public recognition.
But revenue is a problem for web series. Since YouTube has reduced the CPM rates (Cost Per Mille), which is the amount of money paid per 1000 ad impressions, the real average CPM is now around $3. So that means $3 per 1000 ads viewed. But ads do not play on every video view, and if the viewer skips the ad or blocks the ad, then no revenue is generated at all from that view. Realistically you could be looking at $1 per 1000 views or less, equating to about $1000 for 1 million views. Producers will need a lot of episodes with an astonishing number of views before making back costs for even a modest web series.
The second problem involves whether a network or platform will pick up an existing web series after it has been on YouTube. This point is two-fold. First, if a producer wants to approach a network about an existing web series, that web series must have over 100K, and preferably over 1M views per episode before the networks will even start to take notice. If a producer puts the series or pilot onto a public video service like Youtube and it only acquires a few thousand views, then the producer is actually making a case for the project having no market.
Second, the networks themselves are fighting like crazy right now to stay relevant, and not to end up being considered just another YouTube channel. That relevance means seeing fresh, unique content that is not available anywhere else. So, network executives will run the other direction when producers bring web content to them, unless of course the series has several million views per episode.
Choosing a Path
Although there are creative ways to generate revenue from web series, mostly involving sponsors and targeted content, in the end most web series end up being showcases for the directors and writers, and not much more. In order to generate revenue from a series, most experienced television producers will choose to do so with a network, platform or major production company to pick up the bills and guarantee marketing and distribution of the project.
Please contact our office to discuss how our firm can help connect series concepts with networks and platforms actively looking for new content.
As with any entertainment matter, please do not make a decision about complex matters without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. At BLAKE & WANG P.A. I have been representing feature film projects, television series, and recording artists for more than 18 years. Please feel free to contact my office at www.filmtvlaw.com about a quote.
- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer