It’s fascinating to think that just 7 short years ago, YouTube barely existed. If you wanted online video, you either had to download it over [snicker] dial-up or your new-fangled DSL line. Nowadays, online video is ubiquitous in the US and is rapidly growing elsewhere as site like YouTube, the BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Hulu continually push the notion that content is always on-demand and always available. The scenario is, non-web original content plays by a different set of rules to original web content. The former is cancelled after poor ratings, but what about original web series? Do they linger forever until someone forgets to pay the hosting bill, or are they left to fade away into the internet’s ether?
The Difference With The Old Way
In times gone past, shows were cancelled if they failed to garner enough viewers. It was a simple situation and once vanished from the airwaves, they were left to gather dust in studio archives or until cable arrived and reruns were born. The fact that shows simply vanished from the airwaves was important; it didn’t matter if it was your absolute favourite or the worst thing in the world. Once it was cancelled (or ended), it was generally gone for good.
Those were simple times though. Today, the internet and its vast array of choices (and data-generating systems) means that viewing numbers alone cannot indicate whether a web series gets canned or not and when it does, their futures are not as clear cut either.
The New Way
So with the likes of YouTube being the dominant player in the arena, what kind of rules/procedures will be in place for web series that don’t hit the mark? Animation as we all know and love, is a time-consuming process and even shorts like Frederator’s Cartoon Hangover take many months to develop. The inherent risk is that no matter the performance of the series, it will be made and uploaded regardless.
What happens then though? If a web series ‘gets the axe’ so to speak, will it remain on YouTube? Will it be pulled entirely? The former is much more likely as anyone whose stumbled across a long-dead channel will tell you. With that in mind, is it fair to say that web series’ will never really die, they’ll just be allowed to sort of fade away into the background?
No-one has a set policy in this area and plenty of great content has already disappeared from the internet already thanks to the basis of hosting and its associated costs. The aforementioned Geocities is reminiscent of contemporary sites like Blogger, WordPress.com and Tumblr; superb, ‘permanent’ services while active, but unable continue perpetually.
Another Plausible Web Series Possibility
What if an ancient web series is rediscovered and become a hit; what happens then? Will the original creators be around to benefit from it? It might be years, even decades later and if the show wasn’t produced with the correct credits, it might be impossible for the proper owners to take credit for their work. Orphan works are already a problem with physical media covered by copyright; what will the online version be like? All indications point to a potential creative time bomb.
Given that the web can act as a sort of virtual time capsule (the original Space Jam website from 1996 is still online), web series should probably be created in such a way as to anticipate rediscovery many years later and should follow the following criteria:
- Have a designated ‘maintainer’ who can react to changes in the series’ state/popularity
- Be readily accessible to the public i.e. no paywalls, etc.
- Have proper credits that are noted in physical media as opposed to on a computer somewhere (remember, Yahoo, Google and others still delete your email accounts with them if you don’t access them)
With these steps in mind, even a web series that bites the bullet can benefit from a belated boost in popularity.
How do you perceive web series surviving after they end? How would you prepare for such a scenario? Share your thoughts with a comment below!