When it comes to TV production, it’s all about the Benjamins. While directors and producers definitely want to entertain their audience and pull big ratings, it’s only to attract new advertisers, keep up with production costs, and turn a profit. On the Internet, it’s a much different story. Without advertisers to keep happy and ratings to worry about, web series have the freedom of creativity on their side. Still, scoring a TV deal from a web series would be the Holy Grail for the directors, actors, and producers of online shows. But how much would that cost? And is it actually feasible?
Backed by a network, a web series could definitely become a successful TV series if the following took place. But then the question is would it be the same show that attracted its initial audience? How could a digital show keep its integrity after the transition?
One of the most popular web series is Bryan Singer’s H+, a show where some of the human population has Internet chips embedded in their head so they’re always connected. One day, a virus enters the chips, leaving all of those who had the chips embedded – one-third of the population – dead. The series follows those who are affected by the virus and shows connections between the characters. Divvied up into bite-sized webisodes of four to seven minutes, the show stretches over48 parts and has a reported budget of between $1 and $2 million. It’s a fairly large budget for a show that’s shown exclusively online, but it’s backed by Warner Brothers Entertainment.
Let’s compare that with a TV series. Two TV shows that have similar premises and therefore, similar production costs – we’re talking actors, production, special effects, the works – are Fringe and Revolution. Both are big-budget sci-fi series that compare to H+ .Fringe has a budget of $2 to $4 million per episode, but here’s the kicker: the pilot cost $10 million to make. On the other hand, Revolution costs $3 million per episode to make and it’s eerily similar as far as special effects and productions costs would go for H+. It would be easy to set the budget for H+ in a similar range, especially if it were picked up by a larger network.
Of course, it’s not just the production costs that would be considered in transitioning a huge web series like H+ from the computer screen to the small screen. Another thing to keep in mind is the quality of actors that work in web. There’s a good chance that when purchasing a TV show, a network would rather keep the concept and ditch the actors for better-known names, which can help drum up interest for the show and increase viewership. This can be a difficult battle for the original actors – imagine thinking you’ve hit the big time only to find out that you’re being ditched for Jerry O’Connell or some other Hollywood actor. The other issue is translating a web following to a TV following. The audience has to be die-hard enough to follow the series off of their computer screen.
The show’s format would also be problematic. Web series episodes are typically much shorter than the average TV show. It could be one of the reasons that they’re so popular – it’s easier to sneak in five minutes of a series while you’re slacking off at work on your computer than to watch an entire hour online. But the timing of the episodes would definitely have to be altered to translate a web series to a TV series, which could interrupt the show’s original integrity and format.
The world of web series is still fairly new so we’ll have to see how some of these transitions work out. Only a few networks, like FX and HBO, have been brave enough to take on a web series, but if they’re successful, you’ll probably see it more often. It makes sense for networks – many web series already have a cult-like following, but the nature of the show would have to be protected to ensure that audiences follow the show offline as well.
It is possible for a web series to make it on TV. In fact, the latest series to hit the big time is Broad City, a 20-something comedy which has been purchased by FX and will be produced by Amy Poehler. Now, those are some pretty big names for something that hasn’t made a lot of money yet, but the channel believes in the web series after watching a season and seeing potential.
So how much would it really cost to make the jump? Not as much as you’d think. Many web series already have a fairly large budget – convincing a network to foot the bill for a pilot might not be a big deal, but paying for better actors, crew, and directors is where the real budget bump would occur.