As the famous philosophical parable goes: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This is the question digital-first production companies, studios and buyers, like go90, Facebook, YouTube, Fullscreen, Seeso, and Ellation, should be asking themselves about programming. But the harsh reality many face is that their series are like those unheard falling trees in the forest — and as quickly as the series is made, it fades into the unseen.
“I think there’s something to be said about consumption capacity,” said Megan Cunningham, the founder and CEO of digital creative shop Magnet Media. “The new players financing content aren’t looking at the total available audience and saying ‘exactly how much time does the global population have to consume all of this?’”
go90’s Chief Content Officer Ivana Kirkbride told VideoInk in the fall that the first wave of deals to come from Verizon cumulated over 1500 hours of new programming. And that’s one business. Across networks, both digital and linear, thousands of hours of content are being produced.
To chase a breakout hit has become nearly impossible. Or has it?
Upon hearing that Gunpowder & Sky had achieved a “hit” for Spotify, first assumptions might be that the success could be attributed to the series’ podcast-ability.
But for Gunpowder & Sky and Spotify, drawing success meant taking a page from the Old Hollywood Playbook — good ol’ fashioned marketing.
A source close to the deal told VideoInk that “Drawn & Recorded” was the first video series to receive homepage placement on the app, and to receive the first placement in the video shelf on the app as well. Below are three product shots showing where the series is still being given priority placement.
“We insisted on having a marketing plan. We’re a bit old school like that because things can get lost in the digital world,” Gunpowder & Sky President, Van Toffler, said in a panel at Sundance. “We felt that it would be really sad to make something of great quality and it not get seen. So we thought, let’s get with someone who will get behind it. [Spotify was] loud and proud about [the series] and that felt really good to us.”
According to sources familiar with Spotify, the music-video streaming service recognized the value of its in-app promotional space, so much in fact, that it has already renegotiated many of its contracts with the music labels to release prior baked-in promotion clauses.
And while marketing can be attributed to the show’s success inside of the app, the creative team might argue that the quality resonated off of Spotify, as well. On Facebook, for instance, the episode on Kurt Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” grabbed 375K views*, small by TV standards, but large by digital, and somewhat unclear in terms of how many of those views were organic.
*A spokesperson for G&S has updated VideoInk that episodes on Facebook grabbed over 950K views.
But the reality is that while “Drawn & Recorded” is cinematically above par and well-suited for digital consumption, it’s not the only series that exists of this caliber.
Earlier in January, New Form Digital premiered series “Lost Generation” on go90, a premiere that I attended for VideoInk in Los Angeles. Watching the show, I thought, “This is CW quality. It’s edgy, well-produced and has a strong storyline. But it’s a shame it won’t be seen.”
And this is a problem.
“In the future, and with films and longer format projects especially, it’s all about how they are being promoted,” Toffler added. And now, thanks to Gunpowder & Sky, producers (and Spotify) will have another bargaining chip.
If distributors and buyers want to truly get behind video, they are going to have to prioritize fewer projects with bigger marketing budgets to somewhat orchestrate the “hit”.
“There is a finite amount of time that people have to consume their entertainment while still being productive,” added Cunningham. “We’re surpassing that threshold with the supply.”
Until then, it’s likely a majority of series will drop in a forest with nobody to see them. And the long-tail economic implications for the production companies behind them will become an even harsher reality.