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Hayley, Temp Life, and More

September 11, 2009

Wow. It’s been about 3 months since my last entry. Where the hell have I been? It wasn’t intentional, but I suppose I was taking the summer off…

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to give an update on The Hayley Project, when this article unexpectedly came out on Tubefilter last night. Since it’s already in “print”, I thought I’d confirm and talk about what’s next for the team at Tailslating.

We’re excited to work with CJP Digital to reboot Temp Life for Spherion, a leading staffing and recruiting firm. Temp Life is a webseries comedy that focuses on Commodity Staffing, a small temp agency, and the wacky and unglamorous jobs that it provides to its staff. We’re also working virtually with Yuri Baranovsky, who created and wrote Break A Leg. I met Yuri at the after-party at the Streamys (don’t I sound cool?), and he seems like a good guy. He also blogs and had some interesting (and controversial) things to say about the death of web series recently. At some point, I’ll probably react to this on this blog. Anyway, Yuri will be writing the new season for Temp Life, and Jato and I will be producing/directing the series. And yes, we plan on finding a spot for Rachel (Yuri, you’re writing her into the script, right?).

As for The Hayley Project…. it’s still in hiatus. I would have loved to announce that Season 2 was green lit, but we’re still working out the financing. And truthfully, there’ s been some loss of momentum over the months as the opportunity for web series financing and sponsorship has dwindled. I’m not saying that it won’t happen, but the likelihood of Season 2 being developed this year is getting small. That said, I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to put something together in the future.

A couple of other notes:

  • Another exciting development is that Tailslating Productions will become a WGA Signatory shortly. We’ve been in talks with a rep at the WGA and we just need to sign some papers (well, a lot of papers actually).
  • I’ll be a guest on the Streamys Showcase panel at the New York Television Festival on 9/23
  • I’ll also be on a new media panel at the Paley Center on 9/30 (this one sponsored by the WGA)

Finally, I wanted to give a quick plug for my friends who created Real Life With Married People (Destin, Celia, and Deanna Russo). Their first season just ended and it sounds like there’s a good chance they’ll re-up for a second one after Deanna is done shooting Gossip Girl. Looking forward to more episodes.

Hulu Hints at Pay Model

June 3, 2009

Hulu is in the news again. There’s an article on Daily Finance titled “Soon, you’ll have to pay for Hulu.” (sensational title, isn’t it?)

According to the article, Jonathan Miller, News Corp.’s newly-installed chief digital officer, said he envisions a future where at least some of the TV shows and movies on Hulu are available only to subscribers.

This makes complete sense to me and something that was foreshadowed with Hulu Desktop’s launch. Hulu needs to find a way to monetize content and offering a premium subscriber service is the best way to do this. Of course, most people don’t think about the business issues at hand. If you look at the comments under the Daily Finance article, you’ll see a lot of posts on how “stupid” studio execs are and how this would be a horrible move by Hulu (these people are probably the same group who joined in on the Clown Co. name calling pre-launch).

First off, nowhere did Miller say that ALL TV shows and movies on Hulu would cost money. He said some. Second (and this is important), he didn’t detail what the future state of Hulu’s inventory would look like, meaning the total inventory could be significantly greater than it is today.

What I think will happen is Hulu will keep a similar inventory of sample episodes and movies free to viewers just like it is today, and then upsell premium subscriber-based services for additional content (e.g., all past seasons of 24 in addition to the current season). The total inventory is going to go up significantly so that there is enough content to maintain a free base service as well as premium services. This should keep current viewers who aren’t willing to pay for content satisfied, while also capitalizing on the segment of people who are willing to pay for access to more content (and may be willing to replace their current cable subscription).

Makes perfect sense to me.

UPDATE: NewTeeVee is taking a poll on how much people are willing to pay. I’m sure that people are filling out the poll based on the current state of Hulu, which I am sure is going to change. So it’s not surprising that so far, the majority would not pay.

YouTube XL

June 2, 2009

Only a week or so after Hulu launched Hulu Desktop, YouTube just launched YouTube XL, a web-based TV style experience. Looks like the competition for moving into the living room is heating up.

Hulu Desktop Impications and Bad News for Boxee

May 31, 2009

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Earlier this week, Hulu launched Hulu Desktop, a desktop app that transforms Hulu into a lean-back viewing experience (much like Boxee). When I first heard the news, I was surprised. Hulu had previously blocked Boxee from allowing their content to be used in a lean-back 10 feet experience, and I understood why. Hulu’s content creators (NBC and FOX) didn’t want their online content repurposed to cannibalize their cable business model. Now, one had to wonder why they are creating their own 10 foot experience if the economics on cable is so much better. Why would they accelerate any cannibalization to a lower margin business?

I talked to my friend Bobby at Forrester Research and he reminded me that Hulu is a sampling platform, where only the most recent episodes are able to be accessed. So currently, I can only watch the most recent season (and sometimes only the most recent episodes) of any series before they are taken down from the site. Hence, Hulu’s library is still limited and therefore, I am unlikely to cancel my cable subscription at this time.

Then it dawned on me. This move by Hulu is the first phase of an experiment that could end with Hulu providing paid on-demand access to their content partners’ entire libraries. In the short-term, Hulu Desktop will improve viewer experience by allowing Internet-sourced content on a living room TV. But as people start to cut their cable subscriptions and start replacing cable with Boxee, Hulu Desktop, Apple TV, etc., then Hulu is all of a sudden in the best position to continue to provide premium content and also monetize their partners’ libraries through on-demand services. As long as Hulu provides a cheaper plan than current cable providers do, people may be willing to pay to access Hulu’s “premium” services, essentially making Hulu a new media cable provider without having to go through third party cable companies.

Also, as long as Hulu’s partners don’t allow the Boxees of the world access to their content (and it doesn’t seem like they will anytime soon), then Hulu becomes the prime destination for all ABC, NBC, and FOX shows.

Avner Ronen (CEO of Boxee) wrote on his blog:

“Hulu just launched their own boxee-like application for watching Hulu content. the new downloadable application is built to be used from the couch with a remote. we’re glad to see Hulu had a change of heart about bringing their service to the big screen, and we hope that this means Hulu content is coming back to boxee. we’ve already put in a request to Hulu to work with them on bringing Hulu back to boxee, and we’ll let you know the response..”

Unfortunately, I don’t see this happening. Hulu’s desktop app can replicate Boxee’s strategy and aggregate other Internet content such as YouTube, Blip, etc. Acquiring Internet-created content is not going to be difficult. And since Hulu is the only major player for premium content, viewers are more likely to flock to Hulu. We’ll see how things shake out, but I think this could be a very smart move for Hulu and pretty bad news for Boxee.

TubeMogul 2.0

May 28, 2009

I woke up this morning, logged into my TubeMogul account and discovered that TubeMogul just upgraded their site significantly. TubeMogul was already fantastic for distribution and analytics, and now it’s gotten even better with their 2.0 upgrade release.

One new feature I really like is the audience attention span tracker where you can actually see the points during a video where viewers drop off. This is especially helpful because what constitutes a view can be arbitrary based on the distributor (I believe YouTube requires 3 seconds). Now, you can actually see the retention rate throughout your video and the amount of completed views, which is important for post-roll advertising. Also, from a creator feedback perspective, you can identify what parts of your shows might not be holding your audience’s attention, and conversely, what parts/scenes have the lowest drop-off rate.

Check out their video on some of the upgraded capabilities. And if you haven’t, make sure to use TubeMogul’s service. Their analytics are robust but free to use in most cases if you’re an episodic content creator (nice of them to look out for the little guy). If you’re an ad agency, some of the features require payment.

Survey Results for The Hayley Project

May 13, 2009

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After a few weeks in field, we closed up  The Hayley Project survey and looked at the results. We had about a 100 respondents, which is large enough to generate insights. This survey really allowed us to take a step back and say, “what was working for the viewers? what wasn’t? and what can we do to improve?”

The results are quite interesting and in some cases, confirm what we had been thinking. In other cases, we were quite surprised by the results.

Makeup of Viewers

The overall respondent population looked like this:

  • 59% Female/41% Male
  • Avg. age 21

Approximately half of the overall group were also LG15 viewers (not surprising considering how often we were compared to the show). This LG15 sub-population skews more female.

  • 67% female vs. 33% male
  • Avg age 20

Overall, I didn’t see a huge difference in survey results from these two populations, although there were some people who had referenced LG15 in comments, and even requested Jessica Rose to be a guest star next season.

What other webseries do our viewers watch?

We know the webseries category has a fragmented audience base, and our survey results support this. As mentioned above, about half of our audience claim to watch LG15. However, the next highest show was Dr. Horrible with only 21% of the audience claiming to have watched this. Dr. Horrible was the  Streamys Audience Choice Winner, was created by TV genius Joss Whedon and stars Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Felicia Day.

Kate Modern (another EQAL production) and The Guild also scored around 20%. After these titles, none of the other webseries were really being watched by Hayley Project viewers. It really speaks to the niche nature of our audience, but it might also indicate that there is little crossover among audiences in the web video category.

Grades

Overall, The Hayley Project received very strong marks across all elements (e.g., story, characters, acting, etc.). The one area that lagged slightly when compared to the other high scores was interactivity, even though interactivity still scored well overall. As one of our viewers mentioned in the comment section, he would have preferred that he could have impacted the plot and seen more video blog responses from Hayley, rather than reactions solely through the comments section. Rachel responds to this in our Q&A, but the gist of our response is that we would love to do this, but there were a lot of challenges with resources and time. This level of interactivity is something we are considering for next season (knock on wood, if there is a Season 2).

Most Important Elements

Below is a chart that shows the top 2 box level of agreement among respondents for each element. What this means is that a respondent had to select a 6 or 7 on a 7-point scale to score an element as ” very important”. The results below confirm that our viewers prefer a “genre” style show. Suspense, mystery, twists, and drama ranked as the most important elements of the show. It’s also nice to see that Comedy came out as fairly important, as we aspire to have a good mix between drama and comedy going forward (dramedy).

elements

Characters

Not surprisingly, the top 3 characters (excluding Hayley) that viewers want to see come back for Season 2 is the newly formed “Hayley gang” (Lexi, Slade, and Randy). Lexi leads the pack with a whopping 93% of viewers saying they want to see Lexi return. Lexi was followed by Slade (89%) and then Randy (69%).

From a writer’s perspective, I have to say I’m really happy to see that our arcs for Lexi and Slade worked well. Both characters started off as the “annoying” characters that Hayley had to deal with during her investigation. Fans didn’t like or support them early on in the season. (E.g., “i would kill myself first before i would have that kind of room mate [Lexi]”)

However, by the end of the series, Hayley had embraced them and apparently, so did the fans.

Hayley_Project_ 508

After these top 3, we have Detective Kedis (45%) and then Lili (30%), two big characters in terms of plot. What was really surprising was Madame Zizi, who appeared in only one episode (Episode 29), came in sixth (26%). I have to imagine that her appearance was quite memorable given the circumstances of that episode.

Viewers also wrote in and requested that we  bring in web star Jessica Rose and some more mainstream names in Ashley Tisdale, Miley Cyrus, and Miranda Cosgrove. (Yeah, doubt we’ll be seeing Miley Cyrus on the Hayley Project but keep dreaming!)

Episode Findings

The rankings of episodes is perhaps the most interesting, because it allows us to generate hypotheses around WHY these episodes ranked so highly. It also tells us what episodes we should be showcasing to people who have never seen the show. Although not shown in the chart below, Episode 12 “Dust” has been one of my favorites and one that I had been showcasing. I figured this episode had good production value and a bunch of quirky characters. So I was surprised to see that Episode 12 ranks as a top 7 episode among respondents only 12% of the time. This means it ranked 20 out of 37 episodes. This is also why my market research professor told our class “your gut is usually wrong”. Guess she was right.

So the highlights are:

  • 7 out of the top 10 episodes come in the last 10 episodes of the series, highlighting the fact that 1) we ended very strong and 2) viewers are impacted by either recency of the episodes or the payoff effect (e.g., the culmination of events lead to bigger payoffs towards the end of the season)
  • 7 out of the top 10 episodes have at least two of our non-Hayley stars in them. What I think this could mean (and what I had hypothesized before) is that the ensemble nature of these episodes is really when the series shines. Hayley is certainly a strong leading character, but when you mix in other quirky characters who clash and interact with Hayley, the episodes really get a lot more interesting and entertaining. In fact, Episode 32 and 35 exclude Hayley completely, yet ranks really highly. If we are fortunate to do a second season, it will be more ensemble from the beginning
  • Our viewers like Slade/Lexi combo. 4 out of the top 5 episodes include Slade and Lexi. And Episode 32 (rank 4) is a Slade/Lexi episode which doesn’t even have Hayley in it
  • One thing to note is that a lot of these episodes are also benefiting from the build-up of previous episodes. So it’s possible that some of these episodes are great from a serial payoff perspective, but not necessarily as stand-alone

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Advertising

In terms of advertising, 47% of responders said they wouldn’t be impacted at all by advertising (e.g., pre-rolls, post-rolls, overlays)  vs. 66% saying they wouldn’t be affected by product integration. Similarly, 45% of responders said they would continue to watch The Hayley Project if we turned on advertising but might be annoyed, while only 28% of respondents said they would be annoyed by product integration.

If done right, it seems like product integration is the better option for viewer experience.

So that’s a look into our fan survey results. Going forward, we’ll keep what we learned in mind. In the meantime, enjoy the Q&A from Rachel below. And a special thanks to Kodak and Jeff Hayzlett for giving our team two Zi6 pocket cameras at the Streamys (even though we didn’t win). Our team had fun playing with this gadget in L.A., and the quality was MUCH higher than I had expected. In fact, our fan Q&A was all taped using the Zi6.

Bearish Signs?

May 7, 2009

A couple of bearish news stories in the web TV world.

First, the Hollywood Reporter reports that 60Frames has stopped operations due to lack of funding. And today, MetaCafe decides to stop their Producer Rewards program.

As much as I think the web TV world is a wonderful place that democratizes the creative process, I also recognize that the advertising business models in this category don’t support most productions. We’re coming off a “bubble” (2006-ish) where people used to think online video was going to be a viable way to make money. Now, it’s the opposite. With the economy in bad shape, marketers reducing their advertising budgets, and depressed CPMs, it’ll be interesting to see which video start-ups survive 2009.