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Notebook: The sad fate of web series like 'Cybergeddon'

Yahoo!

By Kelly Etz, Daily TV/New Media Editor
Published November 19, 2012

Less than two months ago, “Cybergeddon,” a cybercrime-centered web series created by Anthony Zuiker of “CSI” fame, debuted on Yahoo!'s online Screen channel.

No one noticed.

That same week, at least five “Gangnam Style” remix videos went viral.

More than four million views each.

“Cybergeddon” cost six million to produce, making it the most expensive web series ever created. Those “Gangnam Style” remix videos? Probably less than five dollars total.

What's going wrong here? It’s obvious people like to watch videos online; it’s how YouTube and Hulu make all that dough. I can’t even remember the last time I sat down and watched a TV show on an actual television — probably around the last time I popped a CD into my Walkman. OK, that might have been a slight exaggeration. But, seriously, it has been a long time.

The production quality of these web series is no joke, and it isn’t as if they can’t pull the big names. Tom Hanks produced a web series for Yahoo!, and Ben Stiller has starred in one. It just begs one question: Why doesn’t anyone care?

Hulu and YouTube have invested heavily in original content, without a lot of gain. There was Hulu’s “Battleground,” a half-hour drama-comedy about a senatorial campaign, which actually wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t popular. Then there’s WIGS, a YouTube channel creating original content aimed at women, with series like “Blue” (starring Julia Stiles) that, again, no one has ever heard of. At least Hulu and YouTube are trying, but there has to be some kind of catch here.

The obvious problem with “Cybergeddon” is the lack of advertisements. It sounds great, watching a video online without the every-three-minutes interruptions advertising cars we can’t afford or a Swiffer we’d never buy. But not at the cost of the entire web series becoming one giant advertisement.

“Cybergeddon” was funded by the computer security giant Symantec; if you didn’t know who they were before, you will now. It’s almost as if Symantec is its own character, and not an evil one. You’d think Yahoo! would recognize its audience (or lack thereof) is smart enough not to overlook the obvious product placement everywhere. Maybe that’s why no one’s watching.

But the problem seems to stem not from too few viewers staying tuned, but that viewers didn’t know about it in the first place. It’s the problem of “going viral” that these types of web series face. If they don’t go viral, they don’t get the views. And if they don’t get the views, they just wasted a lot of money.

There’s just no rhyme or reason as to why certain videos make it big and others never make it at all. Why do we like watching hours and hours of “Nyan Cat,” but couldn’t care less about “Cybergeddon?”

It could be that “Cybergeddon” and other web series aren’t in it for the big numbers, but more faithful viewership in the long-term. Maybe web series are like the cable of the Internet world. Cable TV shows don’t try as hard for big ratings like the broadcast stations have to do. Cable is more concerned with niche-type audience that will tune in consistently every week. And that could be a viable option for series like “Cybergeddon,” but with only nine parts running 10 minutes each, the series doesn’t seem to be sticking around for the long run.

So if it’s not getting the viewers now, it probably won’t later after sinking even farther into obscurity. It could be that there isn’t a market for web series just yet, and creators like Zuiker are way ahead of the curve.

The kick is, there isn’t a crystal ball to tell creators what’s going to be popular and what isn’t. Sure, now it looks like “Cybergeddon” and other web series aren’t exactly big hits, but who predicted “Nyan Cat” would be so addicting?


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