The online video space is busy and getting busier all the time. Comscore reports that in December 2012 U.S. Internet users watched 38.7 billion online videos, and 11.3 billion video ads. Not only is online video going mainstream, there’s evidence to suggest that online video has never been less viral than it is right now. Yahoo Insights reports: ”A smaller percentage of people are sharing videos, 26 percent [in 2011] versus 34 percent in 2009″. Why? Yahoo suggest because the audience is maturing, and longer formats are becoming more acceptable. This is a fact I recently touched on in How a Web-Series Like The Louise Log Can Return to a Bigger Audience. At the time I didn’t know how big the response would be to my statement that “Too much emphasis has been put on virality, especially as to how it applies to web-series”. It makes sense really, while the evidence has been building up for awhile, few people have felt able to challenge what’s become perceived wisdom.
One of the main problems with todays video platforms, one I’m sure you’re aware of, is how actively you have to hunt down a web-series you might be interested in. Even if your following the breadcrumbs of your socially networked peers, its far from a relaxing experience. Which skews the bell curve for web-series length into the 5 minute range and leaves even marginally longer shows out in the cold. It’s just not comfortable to watch Das Boot in the same position you were in when you started to search for something naval and German to watch. The platforms that are better designed for comfortable viewing however with nicely designed browsing functionality and connectivity to the better screens in your house like Netflix and Hulu do not support a free-market of web-series. If you think about it, ironically the conclusion one must draw is that big video hosting platforms (like Blip and Youtube) are actually limiting what a web-series can look like.
Excitingly though, there’s a new trend developing that I first noticed in NūtralTV and now in Boomtrain, to overlay the deep but badly ordered content on big video hosting platforms and pick out the web-series that may be of interest to you and deliver them in a user friendly way. I guess you could call them discovery platforms. Nick Edwards, one of the two founders of Boomtrain describes the problem he’s trying to fix as being two fold, “First is discovery. There are incredible shows but they’re either fragmented across the web or lost in the sea of millions of videos on YouTube”. Good start. He sounds like me and “Second is engagement. Most video sites are about getting people to watch a single clip. But episodic content is different. Users want to be alerted when a new episode is available or easily watch an entire season back to back.”
Comedy TV is Dead co-editor Kurt Van Ristell has been playing with the beta for a few weeks, and his impressions have been for the most part very positive:
“When you first sign in, you’re greeted with big, friendly buttons. What category will you begin your search? Comedy, of course! An attractive overlay springs up showing the top trending, editors picks and recommended shows. This is presumably where the service will learn all about you and your preferences. For now it’s a fairly blank slate, one that misses about as often as it hits.
As you browse the chunky tiles, adding shows to your home library is absolutely seamless. A simple “plus” will tag the shows for your library with no clumsy additional page loading. If you’re unsure about a show, you can press watch and the left half of your screen will dynamically come to life as a scaled down player, with all the video information you need as the latest episode automatically rolls. Recommendations will occasionally jump up at you, unobtrusively. And as you use the service, they become more astute.
As a service, there are areas that are (currently) lacking – the social integration is weak and sadly tethered to Facebook. Graphic tiles are aesthetically pleasing, but sorely lacking context. You don’t get a feel for what’s new, what’s hot, what’s updated regularly or what episodes may be online but have been abandoned. The lack of a user rating system also means that inevitably, you’ll encounter some duds – even hand picked ones at that.”
Boomtrain is entirely hand curated, meaning that nothing arrives without being pre-approved. As the service is now in an extremely early stage, it may be worth web-series creators seeing what this platform can do to increase their views and also (a big one) hold their audiences attention further into the series. You can contact boom train at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if they’ll accept your series or check out the FAQ by following this link.
From the answers Nick returned to the questions I pitched at him, I think he’s definitely a very smart guy, who’s trying to solve perhaps the biggest problem for web-series today. There’s just one reservation I have and that’s what it means to create a great UI, and great connectivity and then to limit the options by curating the shows. I was more excited by Boomtrain when I first saw it and imagined what it might be like if Boomtrain was the Reddit of web-series; allowing anyone in and removing the down voted from sight. There is a move by certain players, including Blip to curate more. I’m sure Nick was right when he told me that there’s a content overload problem, but I think the solution isn’t less available content, it’s better design.
It would be interesting to know what you guys think, and if there’s any more details you’d be interested in. I’m psyched to watch how Boomtrain develops. What are your thoughts? Let me know, comments, emails and tweets are welcome.