I've long been a fan of independent webseries. As a film student in my younger years I even thought (and wrote down) a web-series. However, a few years later, the "fad" seems to have worn off and while there are a few quality webseries around it doesn't seem like there's a solid business model to support this kind of format.
Sure, several webseries have explored financing methods thinking "outside the box" but it seems as though financing a webseries simply through Youtube ads isn't really enough (unless you don't pay the actors that is).
However, today I'd like to talk about a phenomenon I've noticed a few years back in regards to the webseries format and hoped it would change but, unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case. I'm talking about the decline in traffic that webseries experience from the pilot episode going forward.
It seems as though, while most webseries start out "strong" they end up dropping half their viewership by the second episode and by the end of the season very few manage to retain anything above 30% of their first episode viewers. This presents a real problem for independent filmmakers looking to explore this new format since advertisers aren't very keen on investing on a project that looses most of its viewers by the end of the season.
To prove my point I'm going to take a look at some very popular as well as some relatively unpopular webseries to talk about the declining traffic this model experiences.
The Guild: One of the most successful webseries around
If you're looking to launch your own webseries and you've done a bit of research then chances are you've probably checked out the Guild's massive success. The series was written and produced by Felicia Day (Buffy, Dollhouse) and was an incredible success, getting Microsoft to endorse them after the first couple of seasons had "aired" to pretty good ratings. However, even the guild wasn't immune to the falling traffic phenomenon.
Specifically, if you look the series up you'll find that the first episode holds an incredibly strong 6 million views. That's not a bad start, the problem is that once the second episode aired traffic dropped by over 50% to less than 3 million views.
The first season closed with roughly 2.6 million viewers and while people can still "Tune in" and increase these numbers (the series was posted on youtube 8 years ago), the fact that they haven't comes to show that this phenomenon isn't just dependant on when they release the episodes (if they choose to release all episodes at once or adopt a more traditional weekly approach).
By the time season 2 premiered, "The Guild" had 1.4 million viewers, the second episode experienced a more minor "drop-off" to 1.2 million but by the time we got to episode 7 the series couldn't go above 1 million in any episode of the remaining season. Season 3 didn't do all that well either, scoring 1.2 in the premier but dropping bellow 900.000 in the second episode and onward.
Of course these numbers are actually pretty good and even broadcast TV has shows with lower viewrships than this. The now-cancelled but very expensive Penny Dreadful, for example, would average 500.000 viewers and that was a cult hit with a PR budget and the backing of Showtime.
Til Lease do us apart: A lesbian webseries
The phenomenon is not unique to "The guild" and can be seen across many different webseries. Til Lease do us apart is the story of a lesbian couple who decide to break up but due to the lease on their apartment their stuck with each other until the lease is over.
This webseries pulled in an impressive 1.9 million viewers on the first episode, but episode 2 saw a HUGE decline to just above 500.000 viewers. Things picked up a bit after that with the season finally reaching the 1 million mark but in between episodes rarely got over the 800.000 mark.
Riftworld Chronicles: a fantasy web-series with a "name"
We recently talked about "Riftworld Chronicles", a very funny fantasy webseries about a wizard that falls into our planet by accident and seeks help to go on with his path. The series is quite funny and you can tell it actually has a decent budget behind it with a very high production value.
That said, the webseries that stars Tahmoh Penikett (Paul Ballard on the cult favourite Dollhouse) just managed to pull in 85 thousand viewers for its first episode and it's second episode dropped significantly to 45 thousand, the first season closed with just 25 thousand, less than 30% the traffic received on the first episode.
Supreme Tweeter: Even GOT talent can't change things
Sounds unbelievable but even if a webseries has Game of Thrones actors thrown into the mix that still doesn't shake the phenomenon of declining viewership. Case and point: Supreme Tweeter.
This is a very clever Webseries starring Harry Lloyd (Viserys on GOT- Khalessi's brother) as himself on his quest to find job after appearing on one of the most successful tv shows of all time. However, times have changed and if you wanna get jobs then having a twitter following is a big deal as he soon finds out.
The thing is, this webseries has cameos by Maisie Williams (Arya Stark on Game of Thrones) and even George R.R. Martin yet in it's only available videos on youtube (the first three episodes subtitled in spanish) the show started off with a rather small 2.9 thousand viewers that dropped to 1.5 thousand for the second episode and 1 thousand for the third.
We're talking about a webseries that has cameos by some of the most talked about people on earth and that didn't even guarantee a success.
What's left to do?
Ok so as we can see, the issue of declining viewership on webseries affects webseries across the board, regardless of the subject they tackle or what their audience is. So, how do we battle this? What can a filmmaker do to avoid this steep drop in traffic? Sadly, those are questions I don't have the answer to but clearly we need to be rethinking the format of the webseries because dropping to just 30% of your original viewership numbers by the end of your first season isn't going to sit well with potential sponsors.
Any thoughts on the matter? What's your take on this issue? Leave us a comment and let's start to get the ball rolling and don't forget to give the aforementioned shows a chance, they're all really great in their own way.