Web video programmers are getting better at promoting their wares, borrowing a well-worn page from the analog playbook that TV programmers have mastered.
Case in point: Lionsgate and Hudsun Media signed a deal to run Trailer Trash (watch the trailer above) on Hulu, partly because the video portal is mastering the art of scheduling, programming and marketing.
"Crossing your fingers and hoping people will find out about a show isn't really a business model," commented Curt Marvis, Lionsgate president of digital media, to the Wall Street Journal.
Hulu piggybacks new shorts on the release of Fox’s animated comedies that run on Mondays, in an effort to lure comedy-lovers to check out likeminded series — much like NBC will introduce a new comedy series next to The Office or 30 Rock.
Even though — except for live events — the web is more about on-demand than appointment viewing, video-based sites like Hulu, IAC's CollegeHumor, Blip.tv and Demand Media's Cracked.com must build loyal audiences, so it makes sense that they'd resort to regular scheduling of original content, as well as cross-promotion and television-style promos.
Traffic and profit remain Internet-elusive even as the potential for both rises and break-through web series can draw viewers in the hundreds of thousands — if they can find them, that is.
Fullscreen, a site which launched in January, leverages social sites like Twitter and YouTube for promotion. "People now control distribution on the Web," says Founder George Strompolos, a former YouTube exec, to the Wall Street Journal.
Fullscreen's Agents of Secret Stuff lucked out with a lead actor, Ryan Higa, who was already a social star on YouTube; naturally, Higa tweeted to his followers (with comments like "Wow, this A.S.S. is blowing up! Over 4 million views, thank you everyone!") to help promote the web series
Another tactic, borrowed from pay-TV, is to charge people to view your web programming. The subscription model is paying off for web series such as Venice, the digital reincarnation of long-time soap opera favorite, Guiding Light — a show that was cancelled in 2009.
Created by Crystal Chappell, aka Olivia Spencer on the soap, to create a new vehicle for the Guiding Light brand and fans, Venice offered a free taste of the budding romance between Spenser and Natalia Rivera (Jessica Leccia), with a launch on YouTube.
It's a classic "free sample" retail approach, one that HBO and Showtime have used with great success: offer non-subscribers a free weekend, or make a certain amount available on digital to whet viewers' appetites, but made it clear they need to sign up to view the rest.
“We realized it was a lot more expensive to produce and stream the show — so we thought that we could just charge everyone ten dollars, that would give us the quality we wanted to give it,” said Chappell to GigaOm. “We say it’s sponsored by the fans.”
Venice is available in 133 countries and holds audience attention 32-46 minutes at a time, Chappell added. “That’s really good news for people who want to produce online.”
Nextflix is hoping its recommendation algorithm will help promote the upcoming Kevin Spacey series House of Cards, marketing to its users who are fond of serialized dramas.
The jury is out — and the audience still peripatetic — but it’s probably wise to bring back some aspects of analog retention and promotion in the newer world of digital searching for loyal and engaged audience.