What we learned from the Digital Creators UK (www.digitalcreatorsuk.com) and Raindance Web Fest panel discussion.
1. Your video has just seconds to grab (and hold) your audience’s attention
In the first 15 or so seconds people will decide whether to watch your content or not. Creating short form content for the web means hooking your audience in from the very beginning – and you have to have something to bring them back again.
Audiences want to watch the content right away, so don’t include traditional opening titles that roll for 30 seconds.
Consider your platform as well – and format the content accordingly to make it as engaging as possible, using things like your title and thumbnails and your opening titles.
2. Build your audience first
Many creators making scripted content for the web pour all their time and energy into the production rather than building an audience before they roll out their web series. When they release their web series they start building an audience from scratch, and when the web series finally starts to get traction with an audience, all the episodes have been shown, and the creator has nothing else to deliver to their growing audience.
Focus instead on making sustainable content over a longer time period and building an audience – and then delivering your premium content, which is your web series.
Building your social channels to grow your idea is critical.
Brett: YouTubers succeed because they continually deliver content and connect with their audience. Then they’re able to leverage that audience and deliver something bigger like a web series.
Rochelle: Six months before our show dropped, we knew where our audience was, we hung out in the forums where they hung out, seeing what people liked, what music they were into, we knew what they may have found funny or not. By the time we came to drop our series we had this massive following already made up of from this particular niche.
3. Enrol cast and crew who understand the web series journey
Ensure that actors and crew who’ve worked in traditional film and TV are aware of how web series momentum builds. They may need to be doing publicity for the show 18 months after it’s been released, after it’s shown in web fests and finally getting media attention.
Lisa: It’s difficult for cast and crew to understand that a web series is quite a long run for them, it’s not going to be the traditional few weeks of publicity, finished, and onto the next thing. That doesn’t work with web series.
4. Pitch to brands to finance your web series
Target specific brands that have the same target market as your audience and tell them what you want to achieve with them.
Pitching to a brand (the content director, director of digital or director of online) is different to pitching to someone in film or TV. They’ll want to look at number of views, engagement metrics – and how their brand can engage with your audience or what kind of visibility their brand is going to have.
Show you have an audience – even if you have a brand new show certain members of your cast might already have a following, or someone on the crew might be an industry expert in their field.
Brands especially like shows that target niches because it’s more effective for them to sell their brand or their image or their values into a specific community or a specific group of people.
Creators should be trying to cultivate engagement rather than views. Having five million views on a video with no engagement is worth less than 20k views but 10k engagements.
Rochelle: If a brand is not going to be your sole provider or capital for your project they’re more likely to get into a dialogue with you.
5. Think beyond YouTube
The content platform has to suit your content and the audience. Where are your audience living online and are you able to deliver it?
If you’re pioneering a new platform like Snapchat or Instagram with a show that could work in shorter segments it may be a way to get a brand interested.
Keep an eye on Facebook videos. While monetising and advertising on Facebook videos has yet to come they’re releasing new features and tools and could be a force to be reckoned with.
At the very least use Facebook videos as a promotional tool to get people’s attention and then drive them where you want.
6. Keep the momentum going
Consider other ‘extra’ content you can add to your channel; like behind the scenes footage or interviews with cast and crew.
Populating your channel with this extra content, even 30-40 second videos, gives your audience new and updated content and keeps them engaged. This extra material can be shot inexpensively on an iPhone.
Plan your extra content from the outset, before filming.
Rochelle: With our first show we monetised all of those extra videos through exclusive media relationships. They can be repackaged for your sponsor packages going forward in ways that probably weren’t originally intended. But you have to have planned and filmed them in the first place.
7. Building an audience as a newbie
James: Find the right talent to be in your project, whether that’s behind the camera or in front of it. For example on YouTube, collaborate with somebody who has got a big following, whether that’s an animator if you’re doing a cartoon or an actor or a blogger, someone who can bring an audience to you.
8. Write your content to suit your platform
Don’t take a script for a film or a short film and think it will work as a web series. Think about the platform and write to suit.
9. Don’t be precious
Be open to new opportunities – collaborations, new people, new platforms. Having total control and ownership is worthless if you’re not building or growing.
10. Understand your release platform
Experience how your end viewer will use your chosen platform to get an understanding of how it’s going to be consumed and what you’re competing with.
Understand YouTube as a user, experience watching videos on the site, how you get pulled from video to video, how you get recommendations. Don’t take for granted you know all about social media and video platforms – make sure you’re creating content that the audience wants on that platform.
11. Mistakes are okay
There is a forgiving factor being online. You can experiment, adapt, change and learn from mistakes. Audiences are willing to be forgiving and go with you as you change and grow and develop.
12. To sign or not sign with an MCN when you’re new?
Multi-Channel Networks (MCN’s) usually focus on the best talents, though some networks look for new talent to advise. Some provide tools and services and resources for creators to succeed and hints and tips and updates, especially for a platform like YouTube which is constantly changing.
Look for the right vibe and fit with an MCN.
Brett: Most MCN’s aren’t going to take on small channels because the time and energy involved in promoting that channel doesn’t equate. The YouTube model is about creators being in charge of their own channel, their own destiny and growing with their own audience. It’s about letting the creators create and not about putting a very traditional media layer over the top of it and saying we’re going to take charge of promotion.
13. Determine your end goal
There are lots of options with your web series. If you really want to write for TV or film, you could invest in web festivals that have great agent markets and try to get signed with one of those. If you’re wanting to make great music you could try and get a syndication deal with someone like vice.com or an emerging music network.
14. You’ve got some funding: do a sizzle reel or the actual series?
If you want to break into TV or do more on the web, a sizzle reel is not going to show your talent as a writer director at all, it’s just going to show scenes, whereas a complete series, even if it’s very short, proves you can tell a story from start to finish.
15. Don’t forget about unscripted web series
More unscripted (docu-series, reality, non-fiction) web series are being commissioned than scripted series.
Unscripted series that address a specific topic can build audiences because audiences often google for information about topics, and google leads to YouTube.
Brett: Non-scripted series can be really powerful because they can have quite a long tail – a longer life than scripted series – depending on what the content is.
Join the Digital Creators UK (www.digitalcreatorsuk.com) and Raindance Web Fest for a discussion on MAKING WEB SERIES THAT WORK.
HOST: Elisar Cabrera (Founder, Raindance Web Fest)
James Edward Marks (Screenage Renegade)
Lisa Gifford (Creator, 3some)
Rochelle Dancel (Bats In Belfries)
Brett Snelgrove (BuzzMyVideos)