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Episodic content on the web

A few innovative formats have hit the web recently.

One of them, ‘Where are the joneses’ has gathered great reviews from many in the industry.

It’s the web 2.0 version of a sitcom where the ‘community’ could log-on the WATJ website and participate in the screenwriting before each new episodes (some would say co-create), helping shape what would happen next on the sitcom. It’s a narrative project, whih means you need to start from episode 1 and watch them in order to fully understand the plot.

The project has been sponsored by Ford, which obviously provides the car, featured in many episodes.

All the communication industry has kept an eye on it, to know whether this type of format could be successful on the web or not.

Imagination partnered with award winning production company Baby Cow (the UK comedy production house established by Steve Coogan and Henry Normal). So the budget was there as well as the right people and the right web tools for distribution (the complete Web 2.0 arsenal, wikis, blogs, maps, Flickr, Facebook groups, etc.).

Everything seems to be in place for a guaranteed success. Lot of publications even mentioned it like The Guardian, calling it the ‘better than any TV sit-com’.

So. Let’s look at the results. Lets recap that the campaign started on June 15.

– The community, helping to write the script, seems to include 27 people.

– Most importantly, on Youtube, the main (and only?) distribution platform, the first episode, kicking off the project, gathered 7,824 views.

– The second episode, got 3,139 views, about 60% less than the first episodes. Surely, this is an indicator of content ‘likeability’.

– The third episode, 2,080 views. The 4th 1,660. And the decline goes on.

The last few episodes a mere 600 views.

125 people subscribed to the Youtube channel, another indicator of the content popularity.

Now, it’s hard to call these results a success. 6 months after the campaign started, the average views for each of the 96 episodes is close to 1,000.

I’m neither criticising the content nor the idea, but just looking at the hard figures. And audience of 1,000 viewers is close to nil.

If a Charlie, a 17 years old can pull 100,000 viewers for each of his home-made videos and get almost 20,000 subscribers, surely we should be able to do better?

In comparison, each of the ‘Will it blend’ video clip was closer to 400-500K viewers, with videos getting in excess of 5 million viewers. The Youtube channel has 46,716 subscribers.

So, how to explain these poor results, despite the great content and original idea?

– For me the first question concerns the narrative nature of this project. You need to watch each episode in order. I’m not sure this is the best format for the web as opposed as new executions coming from a big idea, like the ‘Will it blend’ channel.

– The idea of being able to contribute to the script writing is a great one, but I’m not sure it has been communicated enough.

– The content itself. If each new episode loses 50% of its previous audience, surely there is something that is not working or missing. The content quality is definitely good. But is good content enough for online success?

– The exposure. Everyone is the industry knows about it. But no one outside of it does. After all these efforts, surely Ford could have contributed an extra 10-20K to promote and seed it in viral charts for example, reaching a critical mass that could have started a viral effect.

I do think the right long term creation and distribution model online is closer to ‘Will it blend’ or ‘Charlie is cool’ than the one from the Joneses. Multiple and non-linear executions building a bigger brand idea, rather than narrative and episodic content.

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  1. July 1, 2008 at 2:15 pm

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