You might think that creating and keeping up a successful web series lies primarily in monetization. Regardless of the content, it needs to raise cash in order to thrive…right?
The approach Nashville-based LBD Productions took with the now two-season hit web series “Johnny Dynamo,” the second season of which debuts today on YouTube, defies that concept. They took the smarter route of starting with two, important ideas. They knew their series would live on the web, and they knew they were going to make sure the content was solid before moving on to promotion and monetization, both well thought-out moves that resulted in the fan base and popularity “Johnny Dynamo” has today.
To give some background, “Johnny Dynamo” was Nashville-based LBD Production’s first web series, followed by “Mr. Frost,” “The Accidental President,” and eventually “Justiss,” which will begin shooting in June. However, “Johnny Dynamo” didn’t actually begin as a series. Because “Johnny Dynamo” was meant originally for the web, the production company had the opportunity to showcase a sort of “pilot episode” to the masses to gauge interest before creating other episodes.
“We had planned on doing one episode — just to see if people would watch it,” explains Joe Thomas, the show’s creator. “After it took off, we already knew web was the way to go.” This way “Johnny Dynamo” had a fan base before it was a series — and without much of any promotion besides the single episode that was released online. Along with “some minimal advertising,” that sums up the series’ initial promotion.
Since “Johnny Dynamo” was (and remains) self-funded, the production company played it smart by holding off on advertising until the show got “serious traction,” as Thomas describes. Once that happened, “we started promoting through local print ads, billboards, and a lot of web promotions.” Of course, that got a bit expensive, but the show had proved itself worthy of those expenses, and they ultimately paid off.
So “Johnny Dynamo” picked up an initial following on the web — lots of videos and series can do that, but not all of them can keep up the momentum. “Johnny Dynamo” managed to in part because it had a unique demographic (for the web). The show, along with LBD Production’s other series, stand out online — and especially on platforms like YouTube — because, as Thomas describes, “We didn’t create shows about gamers or zombies or sci-fi…Our shows are aimed at a slightly older audience — and by older, I mean 25 plus.” While other web series were busy targeting the obvious YouTube viewers (read: gamers and “geeks”), those on Left Brain TV (LBD’s network) sought what you could perhaps call more of a television audience…and they found them.
It was also easy to engage viewers with season one because, as Thomas explains, “It wasn’t really about monetization.” Everything LBD Productions has put out has been self-funded, and season one of “Johnny Dynamo” was distributed entirely for free on Blip and YouTube. Instead of focusing primarily on making money, the production company emphasizes “getting as many people to view our content as possible.”
This plan doesn’t preclude monetization, and season two of “Johnny Dynamo” will be ad-supported on YouTube, with its other series growing their fan bases, as well. “With YouTube as a primarily distribution point, it only makes sense to allow ad support,” says Thomas, though there don’t appear to be pre-roll ads on “Mr. Frost” (left) or “The Accidental President” on Left Brain TV’s YouTube channel. Perhaps because they’re still in their first seasons, they’re prioritizing audience enjoyment over monetization, for now.
Though both of those shows (and the new season of “Johnny Dynamo”) consist of roughly 22-minute episodes — the length of a broadcast TV show — Thomas says that’s not necessarily happening because the production company wants the shows on television. “We’re running traditional television length episodes now because we believe that’s where the web is going… Our stories are much bigger now…it just didn’t make sense to stick with a 10–12 minute model.” Still, LBD Productions would produce a series for TV if the opportunity came knocking.
Ultimately, the success of “Johnny Dynamo” came from a content-driven approach…and having a strategy for spreading the word of the show before making the whole season and heavily investing in promotion. The show’s now a big enough deal to attract talent like Terry Kiser (“Weekend at Bernie’s”), who’s joined the cast for season two.
When asked for advice on growing and maintain a popular series on the web, Thomas recounts the “Johnny Dynamo” approach. “Don’t do it for just the money, be sure you have a real plan in place, and surround yourself with people that have the same passion and vision that you do,” he says. “Know your target audience before you start, and then don’t give up.”