by Robert Gustafson and Alec McNayr
With the Oscars now behind us, you'd think that the 2009 awards season is officially over. But for those interested, involved, or invested in online media, it's only just begun.
The Streamy Awards are the Web's answer to the Emmys and Oscars, focused on celebrating and honoring the best in online video entertainment.
The team behind The Streamys are online media enthusiasts located on both the west and east coasts, and the same team that runs the “Web Television” review and news Web site Tubefilter.tv. We spoke to Editor-in-Chief Marc Hustvedt and Chief Information Officer Joshua Cohen, two people who have been following the rise of online media very closely. With daily news, regular podcasts, and interviews, it has become a fantastic resource for anyone interest in the art (and business) of online video. Hustvedt and Cohen have watched both the good and bad the Web has to offer and have witnessed writing and production quality get better and better.
DR. HORRIBLE CHANGES THE GAME
“[In 2008] we saw a real tipping point for the Web TV community when a bunch of old media celebs got involved in the space in a big way,” says Cohen. “Mainly, Joss Whedon and Neil Patrick Harris, who did Dr. Horrible.”
In August of 2008, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog launched online and quickly rose to the top of the iTunes TV download rankings. The success of the series helped create the creative and fiscal landscape for Web TV. It has reportedly made revenues in the millions of dollars from iTunes downloads, ad-sponsored distribution, and DVD sales. For many viewers, it was the first time they had watched a Web show that didn't feature a struggling actor friend or family member. They watched it because, well, it was good entertainment. But what made it so successful?
Hustvedt believes that the answer is scale itself. “Enough people saw the show that it became culturally relevant and significant. It inspired extensions of itself: little parodies and everything that comes with a very popular entertainment property. That only happens when enough people have seen it that it becomes a shared experience. We consume it in a social environment. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, to really compete with television you have to hit that high level of popularity,” he says.
AWARDING THE STREAMIEST STREAMS
Hustvedt, Cohen, and their partners realized that an award show was necessary to showcase some of the Web's most interesting series'. And so the first annual Streamy Awards took place last year in late March.
Joss Whedon won for writing Dr. Horrible (and Neil Patrick Harris for best actor), while the writing team of Jane Espenson, Seamus Kevin Fahey, and Ronald D. Moore won many Streamy Awards for the Web miniseries Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy. It solidified traditional TV's influence in this new world.
Web idealists complain that independent series' have no chance of competing against studio-backed TV spin-offs from the likes of Battlestar Galactica. “We got a little bit of flack for [Battlestar] winning so many awards,” admits Hustvedt. So this year they are having a “Best Companion Web Series” category for shows that are spin-offs from a different medium, like webisodes from The Office, Dexter, and Weeds. “[They're] really something different than an original show where the intellectual property was launched online, so I think that will help draw a bit of a line so it's not just TV writers moonlighting on the Web."
Since junior writers in the writer's room are asked to pen those many online episodes, winning a Streamy Award - or even being nominated - could really give a boost to some up-and-comers.
The voting body for The Streamys is comprised of the members of the International Academy of Web Television, a collection of executives at Internet studios, new media agents, entertainment blog editors, and show creators recognized for innovation and quality. Hustvedt and Cohen can only hope this eclectic mix of online media enthusiasts will continue to judge on the quality and originality of content, and not pander to recognizable names, faces, and big budgets. This year, IAWTV members have reported that they've been targeted with marketing messages (both email and offline) from show producers, hoping to get their shows nominated. Some things, it seems, never change.
STREAMYS FOR THE WRITER
There is a growing online audience for quality programming and, therefore, a potential financial incentive. But for now, it will require most writers to step away from the comfort of their computer keyboards.
“A writer [for Web TV] these days is in many ways like a television showrunner,” says Hustvedt, “They really have to create the story and they have to own it. And I think that's where the opportunity is from a business point-of-view. You get to own the show itself and the property as it develops.”
All this activity is coming at a time when studios are becoming more and more savvy about their investment into new media. “I think we're seeing a second wave of studios. The studios have digested their earlier passes,” says Hustvedt, referring to studio divisions like ABC's Stage 9 Digital and earlier exploits at Fox and Warner Brothers. “Now, they're using what they know about marketing film properties and other entertainment properties and are applying that to Web series'.”
“There's a common conception in the online video space that the cream will rise to the top, and I don't necessarily believe that, I think that there's too much stuff for that to happen,” adds Cohen. Whether an independent production, or the product of a studio marketing machine, Hustvedt and Cohen both agree that, for the meantime, the field is wide open for creators of all types. The world of “Web Television” is getting more and more credibility, and having its own high-visibility awards show is simply one step in the maturation of a new medium.
For more insight, listen to the podcast with Cohen and Hustvedt at scriptmag.podbean.com.
[Full disclosure: Alec McNayr is a member of the International Academy of Web Television, the voting body for the Streamy Awards.]